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16.11.07, Rajsic, et al., eds., The Prose Brut and Other Late Medieval Chronicles

16.11.07, Rajsic, et al., eds., The Prose Brut and Other Late Medieval Chronicles

As the editors' introduction to The Prose Brut and other Late Medieval Chronicles points out, Lister M. Matheson has done more than any other scholar to bring to light the set of manuscripts that collectively comprise the Prose Brut. The purpose of the thirteen chapters of the collection is to pay tribute to and build upon Matheson's work with the Brut texts and with other chronicles of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. As the subtitle (Books Have their Histories) suggests, most of the chapters focus on context--the readership, production, and transmission of chronicle texts from the late middle ages to the present, though many chapters address the content and theme of the chronicles themselves. The volume usefully brings together several threads of scholarship on the Prose Brut and on medieval chronicles, with chapters providing varied approaches and offering a great deal of new evidence about the manuscripts.

Julia Marvin begins the volume with a reflective essay on Matheson and his influence, offering a touching and humorous introduction to the scholar and providing a fitting context for his contributions to the field. After this short personal chapter, the collection itself is divided into three parts. Part I, "The Use of History," examines the political, theological, and philosophical contexts of historical texts during the late middle ages. Part II, "The Prose Brut," focuses on the shaping and transmission of Brut manuscripts from the fourteenth to the sixteenth century; the essays in this segment also reconsider what constitutes a "Prose Brut" generically. Finally, Part III, "Receptions and Afterlives of Late Medieval Chronicles," treats the scribes, editors, and owners of the manuscripts from the late middle ages to the twentieth century. The tripartite division provides a logical framework for the collection, with the editors' introduction directing the reader to places where chapters in different sections discuss the same text.

Krista Murchison's opening chapter in the first section makes a strong argument for Le Livere de Reis de Engleterre, an early fourteenth century Anglo-Norman prose chronicle, as a religious as much as a dynastic history, citing the text's emphasis on ecclesiastical matters and providential design in history. Christine M. Rose and Alexander L. Kaufman address the incorporation of miracles and portents into secular history. Rose examines how miracles inform the world view of the English translation of Trevet's Anglo-Norman Les Cronicles and its continuation, based on the English Prose Brut. Kaufman discusses portents and wonders in Warkworth's Chronicle, a metrical chronicle edited by Matheson. According to Kaufman, these portents are designed to reflect the tumultuous events of the late fifteenth century and thus invite political readings. Continuing the discussion of chronicles documenting events of the late fifteenth century, Daniel Embree argues against the scholarly view that two prominent chronicles of the reign of Edward IV, The Chronicle of the Rebellion in Lincolnshire and The Historie of the Arrival of Edward IV in England, were written by the same author. His analysis of language style and choice of details makes a convincing case for the work of two different writers whom he terms "the Lawyer" and "the Herald."

The second section explores the composition and transmission of copies of the Prose Brut from the fourteenth to the sixteenth centuries. Some of the essays in this chapter seek to broaden and redefine contemporary understanding of what constitutes a "Prose Brut." Erik Kooper, for instance, argues for the addition a Latin Brut text to the catalog of Prose Brut manuscripts as part of his broader analysis of the "Prose Brut" as a genre. The next two essays by William Marx and Jaclyn Rajsic extend Kooper's generic argument by focusing on variant Bruts, which Matheson referred to as "Peculiar Texts and Versions." Marx examines interpolations made to two copies of one such peculiar manuscript, discussing how the compiler reshapes and reimagines history; Rajsic outlines the history of a 1527 Prose Brut composed on a genealogical roll as evidence of continued interest during the early modern period in the Brut's treatment of succession. Neil Weijer discusses changes made to two different print versions of Caxton's Chronicles of England in the sixteenth century, highlighting compilers' efforts to incorporate into universal histories the insular historical narratives of the Prose Brut. He further argues that the different print texts should be considered variants rather than reprintings.

Weijer's focus on print manuscripts provides an effective transition from the second to the third section of the volume, which treats the owners, scribes, and editors of the late medieval chronicles. Four of the five chapters in this section deal with transmission and copying of medieval chronicles in the early and later modern periods, bridging the divide between the middle ages and more recent times. Chapters in this section also engage the influence of the chronicles on authors such as Chaucer, Gower, and Pope. Providing a companion piece to Rose's earlier chapter, Heather Pagan examines the transmission of Trevet's Les Cronicles to royal and non-royal readers as part of a renewed interest in Anglo-Norman historical texts in late medieval England, considering the possibility that Chaucer and Gower may have used the manuscript. Elizabeth J. Bryan carefully analyzes markings on three Brut manuscripts to argue for a previously undocumented connection of one of them--MS Harley 24--to sixteenth-century antiquarian and Archbishop of Canterbury Matthew Parker and his circle. According to Bryan, the crayon markings on the manuscript show that it was used for insight into the development of the English language, in addition to research into the historical relationship between Crown and Church. Edward Donald Kennedy discusses the work of another early modern antiquarian, eighteenth-century editor and compiler Thomas Hearne, especially his publication of two Middle English metrical chronicles in 1724 and 1725. Highlighting Hearne's interest in the history of the English language (a trait he shared with Parker) and his interest in literary biography, Kennedy provides an intriguing portrayal of this early medievalist and his influence on the literature of a period not especially sympathetic to the middle ages. Caroline D. Eckhardt traces the transfer of the one surviving manuscript of the fifteenth-century Castelford's Chronicle, providing insight into the late medieval and early modern book trade. Finally, A.S.G. Edwards takes the study of the Brut manuscript into the modern period with a discussion of various sales of Brut manuscripts during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, providing a basis for later study of these texts and reminding the reader that the history of the Brut manuscripts is still unfolding.

Offering original scholarship on these manuscripts and new contexts for their study, the chapters in this volume stand as testimony to the influence of Matheson's work and do credit to his memory. The volume is indispensable to scholars with an interest in the Prose Brut and in late medieval English chronicles.