15.01.28, Embree, Kennedy, and Daly, eds., Short Scottish Prose Chronicles

Main Article Content

Alexander L. Kaufman

The Medieval Review 15.01.28

Embree, Dan, Edward Donald Kennedy, and Kathleen Daly. Short Scottish Prose Chronicles. Medieval Chronicles, 5. Woodbridge, Suffolk: The Boydell Press, 2012. Pp. ix, 395. ISBN: 9781843837459 (hardback).

Reviewed by:
Alexander L. Kaufman
Auburn University at Montgomery

With the publication of this volume, the Medieval Chronicle series continues to provide scholars with valuable chronicles from the Middle Ages that have not been previously published in scholarly editions. This book contains editions of seven short Scottish chronicles from the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, almost all of which present a sharp anti-English ideological stance. The editors begin with a thorough and knowledgeable introduction, which contains an overview of late-medieval Scottish historiography and places these chronicles within the context of medieval Scottish historical of such authors as John of Fordun, Walter Bower, Andrew of Wynton, John Barbour, Hector Boece, and John Mair (Major). The seven chronicles in this edition, written in Scots, French, and Latin, are, compared to the chronicles of Boece and Mair, compact. As the editors state, the purpose of these chronicles "was to instill a sense of pride in the Scottish nation; and most, like the longer ones, attempted to alert them to the threat from England" (19). As works of political propaganda, the majority of these chronicles present the Scots as being superior to the English and the Britons.

The first chronicle is La Vraie Cronicque d'Escoce, which survives in four fifteenth-century manuscripts. The manuscript chosen for this edition is Brussels, Bibliothèque royale MS 9469-70, and it dates from 1467 at the latest. The author of this chronicle establishes his aim for writing it in the first fifteen lines: to establish how the Scots first arrived in the kingdom of Scotland, "and to set out here to explain and describe what I have found to be most likely and certain about the matter, according to what I have found and read in the histories, reconciling them as much as possible" (81). Of course, what the author writes is a history that is selective in its historical references and generally ambivalent toward the relationship that exists between the English and Scots. The relationship between the French and the Scots as depicted by the author is far more interesting, for it involves the presentation of some historical moments that are works of pure invention and others that are revised to make the French and the Scots aristocracies appear to be exceedingly competent political strategists who shared a common political enemy.

The Scottis Originale (The Cronycle of Scotland in a Part) survives in three manuscripts, and all three versions of the chronicle are included in this new edition: Edinburgh, National Archives of Scotland, Dalhousie Muniments, GD 45/31/1-II, formerly Berchin Castle, Panmure Manuscript; London, British Library, Royal 17.D.xx; and Edinburgh, National Library of Scotland, MS 16500, formerly Acc 4233. Of the seven chronicles in this anthology, this reviewer found The Scottis Originale to be the one that could appeal to a number of current readers. The author goes to great lengths to establish Scotland as a nation that has been independent for 1,800 years. Moreover, the genealogical claims that the author establishes are far more noteworthy than those of the English, for the Scots ancestors descended from the Greek prince Gayelglas (Gathelos) and the Egyptian princess Scota (daughter of the pharaoh who died in the Red Sea). The exodus narrative of Gayelglas, Scota, and their supporters, and their eventual settlement in Scotland as the land's first inhabitants, is a worthy companion piece to Fordun's and Bower's writings. Arthurian scholars should take note of this chronicle if they have not done so already. Arthur's representation in medieval Scottish historiography is complex and multifaceted, and the animosity shown toward Arthur in the Scottis Originale is severe and full of vitriol. The chronicler also has his own doubts on the legitimacy of the Arthurian narratives and refutes the historical record of Arthur's conquests. The editors rightly place this chronicle within the context of other contemporaneous works of historical writing, most notably Harry's The Wallace and John Hardyng's Chronicle, and also within the turbulent political climate of the late fifteenth century.

Of all of the chronicles in this volume, the one with the least political bias is the Chronicle of the Scots (The Short Chronicle of 1482). The edition is from British Library MS Royal 17.D.xx, where it follows Wynton's The Original Chronicle of Scotland. The first two-thirds of this brief chronicle consist of annals with little to no commentary, mostly on the history of the world and of the early history of Scotland; even the death of William Wallace does not elicit a remark, good or ill. The chronicle is valuable for its record of late fifteenth-century Scottish history, especially the regency of James III.

The chronicle that follows is the Ynglis Chronicle; the only extant version of the chronicle is found in the Asloan manuscript, immediately following the Scottis Originale. The Ynglis Chronicle begins with one of the most fantastic opening lines in medieval historiography: "Heir followis ane tractact of a part of þe Ynglis cronikle schawand of þar kingis part of þar ewill & cursit governance" (145.1-2). Thus, the tone is set for the remainder of the chronicle. Interestingly, the chronicle is not necessarily concerned with Scottish history, for the contents focus mostly on the history of the Britons and the English. Oftentimes, the chronicle confuses the two. Most of the English are depicted as evil, yet Henry VI is one of a few who is described in favorable terms, as "ane gud man and in his tyme levit all possessionis þat Henry þe Tyrand had gottin in Fraunce" (154.334-335). The chronicle ends, abruptly, with the arrest of Eleanor Cobham, but no mention is made of her supposed involvement with witchcraft.

Two related chronicles are included in this edition and are printed in the same chapter. The text of the Latin Nomina Omnium Regum Scotorum and a translation of it occupy the top half, while two versions of the Brevis Cronica (The Scottis Cornikle) are below it. The former is in the Dalhousie manuscript, while the two latter versions are found in National Library of Scotland, Advocates MS 19.2.4; the other is in the Asloan manuscript. The Nomina contains brief entries on early Scottish kings; however, Kenneth mac Alpin's reign in the ninth century receives substantial commentary. The political rhetoric of this author is more balanced, for he notes the political successes and failures of the Scots. The two versions of the Brevis Cronica are similar in content to the Nomina, though there are small (and at times significant) differences. The tone of the Brevis texts is slightly more biased against the English.

Published for the first time, the St Andrews Chronicle exists in one unique copy, St Andrews University Library MS DA775.A6W9, which dates to the first half of the sixteenth century. The chronicle is a 281-line fragment of a summary of the early books of Boece's Scotorum Historia, and it begins after the reign of first King Fergus and ends abruptly with the reign of Eugenius. The entries evaluate the ruling monarchs, emphasize the law and its reach in medieval Scotland, present matters of sexual transgression in great detail, and record supernatural marvels and prophecies.

The editors and translators should be commended for their erudite scholarship. Editing a volume of seven different chronicles, in multiple languages, is no small task. The seven chronicles are meticulously transcribed and edited, and the translations are faithful and accurate. The textual notes occupy roughly one-third of the book; they are substantial and helpful to the reader. Any questions that I had while reading theses chronicles were answered in full in these notes or in the bountiful bibliographic footnotes. The glossary is meticulous. This book is a substantial contribution to late medieval Scottish historical writing.

Article Details

Author Biography

Alexander L. Kaufman

Auburn University at Montgomery