00.01.05, McGurk, ed./trans., The Chronicle of John of Worcester, Vol III

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Richard W. Pfaff

The Medieval Review baj9928.0001.005


McGurk, Patrick, ed./trans.. The Chronicle of John of Worcester, Vol IIII: The Annals from 1067 to 1140 with The Gloucester Interpolations and The Continuation to 1141. Edited and Translated by Patrick McGurk. Oxford Medieval Texts Series.. Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press, 1999. Pp. liv, 351. ISBN: 0-198-20702-6.

Reviewed by:
Richard W. Pfaff
University of North Carolina

In this second volume to appear (although vol. III in numerical order) of the great edition of John of Worcester's Chronicle, the work really comes into its own. Like so many of the editions of the major medieval English chronicles, this has been a long time in gestation. R.R. Darlington, who died in 1977, had left a draft of the annals for 450 to 1066 with editorial apparatus and notes for about half of the first volume to appear (as vol. II), the rest being supplied by Patrick McGurk, who finished the text and notes, as well as the translation begun earlier by the late Jennifer Bray. In the event, over half of that volume, including the annals from 901 to 1066, was the work of McGurk; though his preface was dated 1991, the book did not appear until four years later.

Now, much more expeditiously, the part of John's work for which he is a contemporary authority, or nearly so, has appeared under McGurk's sole editorship; and it is, let it be stated straightway, an astonishing display of the editor's craft. (Volume I is yet to appear: general introduction, supplementary material like episcopal lists and royal genealogies, miscellaneous ancillary accounts.) McGurk has had the great advantage of a base MS (Oxford, Corpus Christi College 157) which is in part the author's autograph, supported by four others that are related to it and one Chronicula MS. As all are relatively accessible in major English and Irish libraries, and in comparatively readable hands, some of the preliminary difficulties will have been easily surmounted.

What was left, however, and what McGurk has so masterfully tackled, is the relation between the account of John, monk of Worcester and cathedral prior for many years until his death some time after 1140, and those of the other witnesses in the richest age of English chronicle writing. Paramount here are the Anglo-Saxon Chronicler (that is, "E," virtually the only surviving version for the years from 1079 to 1154: the Peterborough chronicler), Eadmer, Orderic Vitalis, and above all William of Malmesbury, John's west country neighbor until 1143, the year of William's putative death. There is also the "world" chronicle of Marianus Scotus, the mid-eleventh-century Irish anchorite whose work John may have thought of himself as continuing; certainly John incorporates many of Marianus' entries verbatim.

The greatest editorial feat McGurk pulls off is to present John on his own terms while indicating fully his dependence on and often direct borrowing from Marianus and William, as well as general relationships with the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (possibly in a version not now extant) and other contemporary witnesses. The whole matter of "sourcing"--who is dependent on whom for what--is here rendered more complicated by a considerable amount of quite substantial textual variation (despite there being such a small number of MSS), and also by the fact that John is a primary authority for the acts of several English church councils of the period, sources which are likely to get recorded, albeit not systematically, elsewhere.

Since this is part of the Oxford Medieval Texts series, it is equipped with facing translation, one which on the whole reads well and smoothly. One can always play the game of querying certain renderings and quibbling about others, and the present work offers a modicum of temptation of that sort. As tiny examples, the impact of "magna copia Anglorum quam Normannorum" is not quite rendered by "a large force of English and Normans" (pp. 24-5), "do fealty to" seems more than "obediuit/obediret" yields (pp. 60-1), "coadjutor" is more precise than "vicarius" as an episcopal assistant (pp. 174-5), and "Diatim nanque horis decantantis" would be better "after the hours had been sung each day" rather than "chanting the hours every day." But these are superficial points which in no way detract from the generally excellent quality of the translation.

Probably the most celebrated features of the base MS are the illustrations depicting three nightmares suffered by Henry I during which he is threatened by representatives of the famous three orders, knights, churchmen, and peasants, and a scene of a choppy channel crossing that causes the king to remit an unpopular tax. These are reproduced (not as clearly as would have been desirable) after the Introduction, and the text that they illustrate is translated with particular verve. The standard of production is, as might have been expected, very high, but it is hard to understand why a map has not been included in either volume; perhaps one is intended for vol. I.

There are two appendices, printing the text (with no translation) of, respectively, brief interpolations from Abingdon abbey and quite lengthy ones from Bury St Edmunds. The latter are even more extensive in the pre-1066 volume, and appear to contain some important new or little-known material. This enhances the impatience with which one awaits the general introduction. There are many points of interest in the present volume that cry out for further elucidation--for example, the nature and purpose of the metrical bits included sporadically-- and students of this period of English history will greatly benefit by having all of McGurk's learning available through the final volume. Even at present, with the completions of the great editions of Orderic Vitalis by Marjorie Chibnall and, just last year, of William of Malmesbury's Gesta Regum by R.M. Thomson and Michael Winterbottom (with the Gesta Pontificum to follow), students are almost overwhelmed by the narrative richness of historical tradition for the eighty years or so following the Norman Conquest. Still, it's a nice glut to suffer from.

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Richard W. Pfaff

University of North Carolina