09.05.07, Scott-Stokes and Given-Wilson, eds. and trans., Chronicon Anonymi

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Lorraine Attreed

The Medieval Review baj9928.0905.007


Scott-Stokes, Charity and Chris Given-Wilson (eds. and trans.). Chronicon Anonymi Cantuariensis: The Chronicle of Anonymous of Canterbury, 1346-1365. Oxford Medieval Texts. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2008. Pp. lvii, 174. ISBN: 978-0-19-929714-6.

Reviewed by:
Lorraine Attreed
College of the Holy Cross

This new edition of the fourteenth-century chronicle of Anonymous of Canterbury is based on a manuscript found in the Cranston Library of Reigate (Surrey). Previous transcribers and editors, namely the seventeenth-century antiquarian Henry Wharton and the nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century historian James Tait, had been unaware of the existence of this version, whose superiority is claimed by both its completeness and its early date. [1] Compared to the Lambeth Palace Library version that Tait used, and two abbreviated versions in the British Library and at Magdalen College Oxford, the Cranston manuscript includes accounts for a nearly seven-year period omitted by the others. Covering the years 1346 to 1365, the chronicle in its entirety focuses on English political, military, and diplomatic history, occasionally borrowing from other works such as Adam Murimuth's Continuatio Chronicarum, especially for the earliest entries. Opinionated, patriotic, and centered on Kent's experience of events, the author is described by his new editors as "a recorder rather than a commentator, more annalist than analyst" (xxxiv). Nevertheless, the work contains information found only within its pages, both those shared with the earlier Tait edition, and the previously-missing portion covering the years 1357-64.

The edition itself, in Latin and English facing pages, with footnotes for editorial comment and correction, is preceded by a valuable introduction analyzing the text and its place in historiography. Scott-Stokes and Given-Wilson provide a clearly delineated and soundly reasoned guide to the manuscript, its sources, its historical value, and some speculation as to the identity of the author. The second section in particular, examining the chronicler's sources and discussing how news traveled in medieval society, would make valuable reading even for undergraduate students, although the price of the volume makes it more likely to appear on library shelves than in student backpacks. Tait had concluded that the author was a monk at Christ Church, Canterbury, with access to its scriptorium, but Scott- Stokes and Given-Wilson point to the author's interest in the city of Rochester and wonder whether he could not have been a monk there. On the other hand, they observe that it is possible he was not a monk at all, but perhaps a secular clerk involved in some of the diplomatic negotiations, possibly a member of the circle of William Rede, successively archdeacon of Rochester and then provost of Wingham College, six miles east of Canterbury. Certainly, he was interested in how war and diplomacy impacted Kent, and took particular notice of notables passing through between Calais and London. Of special interest to him was the legislation regulating the evils of purveyance and seizure of food, from which Kent had particularly suffered in the 1350s.

The editors provide two separate lists of those items unique to the chronicle. The first list encompasses the entries shared with the Tait edition, noting on two occasions material Tait claimed to be unique but which turned up also in the Anonimalle Chronicle, published more than a decade after Tait's tome. [2] The second list focuses on unique items found in the portion of the text for 1357-64, provided by the Cranston manuscript. Although there is little on either of these lists likely to inspire the rewriting of textbooks, the additions are valuable and no account of these years can afford to ignore them. The chronicler's position in the southeast corner of England, on a London-Kent-Calais axis, accounts for his ability to provide us with additional information about the French king's travels, from his reception by Londoners in 1357, to the return of his corpse to France via Canterbury in 1364 (para. 38-40, 105, 107). His recounting of the French raid on Winchelsea in 1360 is fuller than anything else we have, with insights into the terrain as well as a list of townspeople killed, and an account of Edward III's landing at Rye to inspect the damage (para. 65-69). Many of the entries expand our knowledge of participants in various entourages, and heraldic details such as the banners and pennons under which the French divisions were marshaled at the battle of Poitiers (para. 29). In the field of diplomacy, most valuable are the complete terms of the First Treaty of London dated 8 May 1358, for which no full text survives (para. 49), and the names of the magnates taking the oath in October 1360 to uphold the Treaty of Brétigny-Calais (para. 78). The Appendix contains a continuation of the chronicle found in the Lambeth Palace Library and British Library manuscripts, discussing the battle of Njera, including the allegation that Pedro of Castile promised to make the Black Prince his heir in return for his military help against the Trastamaran challenger (148-49).

The narrative begins with Edward III's landing on the Cotentin peninsula of Normandy in July 1346, determined to gain his rightful inheritance of the French kingdom by military means. Although this early section owes much to Adam Murimuth's work, the chronicler makes it his own not least with his determined characterization of Edward as the epitome of courage and decency, in the face of the perfidious French--cowards, rapists, and impious eaters of meat during Lent. The editors find fault with the accuracy of his account of Crécy, but point out the colorful details probably gained from oral sources, such as the story of the black birds seen flying over the French forces "as if hungering after their corpses and foretelling the death of Frenchmen" (para. 14).

Diplomatic details fascinated this chronicler. Remarking on the persistence of peace talks held during the 1350s between the English and French, he described the diplomatic geography of the area around Calais and its causeway, citing the roads and open ground north of Guines that served as the traditional meeting place of ambassadors (para. 21). Throughout the edition there are notices of the various secular and ecclesiastical embassies, their participants, the truces they brokered, the hostages exchanged and warehoused. As mentioned above, the chronicler provides the terms of the peace treaty of 1358, and adds to our knowledge of the Treaty of Brétigny-Calais by listing the names of the magnates who joined the French king in taking the oath to uphold the agreement. One should note as well an account of the 1364 negotiations for a marriage between the king's fourth surviving son Edmund of Langley and the count of Flanders' heiress, a match that might have changed the course of war and the map of Europe had Pope Urban V not refused a papal dispensation (para. 110-11). Such accounts flesh out the infrequent and meager references to embassies and diplomats found in royal archives, and remind us that the period before the residential ambassadors celebrated by Garrett Mattingly is worthy of attention.

Details of chivalric exercises and royal ceremonials abound, not surprising considering the chronicler's high opinion of Edward III. He is, however, less fulsome in his praise of the Black Prince, and goes to the trouble of mentioning that in marrying Prince Edward to Joan countess of Kent, Simon Islip archbishop of Canterbury "said he was coerced against his conscience" (para. 87). A number of jousts or tournaments find mention in these pages, and we are treated to descriptions of banquets, processions, and entry pageants replete with pretty girls sprinkling onlookers with gold and silver leaf. The jousts that were scheduled following the royal marriage he so much disapproved of were blamed on causing a terrible windstorm in January 1362 that blew down houses and fruit trees and ripped off roofs. Even more memorably, the wild winds sent one unfortunate Austin friar, though "a strong man," flying through a window into the garden "through the agency of an evil spirit, so it is believed," but miraculously unhurt (para. 89). In case the point got away from readers, the chronicler follows this account with a description of a fire that destroyed the clothing and goods intended for jousts planned by the Black Prince for later that spring, "the devil wishing once again to demonstrate the root of his malice" (para. 90).

Anyone who had edited medieval manuscripts gains renewed admiration for the Stuart antiquarians and Victorian worthies who worked under archival conditions even more challenging than our own, yet turned out volumes that continue to contribute and inspire. Like their distinguish predecessors, Scott-Stokes and Given-Wilson have advanced our knowledge of this valuable chronicle with a scrupulous edition that deserves our attention and gratitude.


1. British Library, Harley MS. 4321, ff. 108-57; Chronica Johannis de Reading et Anonymi Cantuariensis 1346-1367, ed. James Tait (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1914).

2. The Anonimalle Chronicle 1333-1381, ed. V. H. Galbraith (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1927).

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Lorraine Attreed

College of the Holy Cross