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21.05.03 Given-Wilson, Continuatio Eulogii

The Medieval Review

21.05.03 Given-Wilson, Continuatio Eulogii


Important and often unique insights into the tumultuous events surrounding the deposition of Richard II and the Lancastrian revolution are afforded by the continuation of the Eulogium Historiarum, better known as the Continuatio Eulogii. Notwithstanding its importance, however, the Continuatio is fraught with problems, rendering it a subject of considerable conjecture. Among the many problems attending the Continuatio the most prominent--not to mention controversial--are interlocking complexities attending both its composition and its authorship.

Little wonder, then, that since its initial publication in the Roll Series in (1858-1863) the chronicle's composition has been the subject of considerable conjecture. Covering the years 1364 to 1413, the original manuscript has been long lost. The text as we now have it is extant in only a single manuscript, British Library MS Cotton, Galba E. VII, originally edited by F. S. Haydon, who asserted that the Continuatio represents a text, which "must have been composed at very different periods, or that more than one source has been drawn upon in its compilation," all pulled together at some date after 1428. [1] Haydon's views were both endorsed and amplified by C. L. Kingsford, who called attention to multiple sources underlying the text of the Continuatio. After careful comparison of several relevant texts, Kingsford observed that three separate texts, with terminal dates of 1401, 1405, and 1413, formed the composite construction of the chronicle. Of these, Kingsford noted that one of these formative texts was a chronicle extending from 1367 to 1401, which he labeled the Southern Chronicle, conveyed in BL, Add. MS 11714. Kingsford's conclusions were subsequently refuted by S. N. Clifford, who argued that Kingsford's perceived textual divisions at 1401 and 1405 do not appear in the Continuatio; thus, "one man was responsible for the composition of the whole," a complete and undivided version of the Continuatio in circulation soon after 1413.

In his discussion of the Continuatio Eulogii's composition, Given-Wilson notes that its narrative is "in some sense at least, a composite work, a concoction of material from a number of difference sources...cobbled together to form a disjointed and at times clumsy whole" (xxxii). Given-Wilson first observes that the initial conclusions of Charles Kingsford (1913), which proffered that the complete narrative was "largely derivative, a composite work compiled around 1430 which integrated up to five pre-existing sources," is wide of the mark in that "these sources do not survive" (xxvii). Another consideration, that of E. J. Jones (1937), suggested a single author, John Trevor, bishop of St Asaph, who wrote nearly all the text. Given that Jones's estimation is "weak and has found no support," Given-Wilson dismisses it out of hand (xxvii). In Given-Wilson's estimation, the preferred interpretation was presented by S. N. Clifford (1975), who maintained that "the Continuatio was 'the work of one man, whose chronicle is a contemporary and independent account of the period which he describes.'"[2] While it is interesting that "elements of Clifford's argument have received some support;" Given-Wilson concludes that "the process of composition of the Continuatio is still fundamentally an unresolved question and bears re-examination" (xxvii).

Inexplicably, Given-Wilson overlooks a previously published (2004) analysis of the Continuatio that proffered revisionist perspectives in regard to its composition. Its analysis of relevant manuscripts endorsed Kingsford's theories concerning both the dating and composite nature of the Continuatio. Of fundamental importance are Kingsford's distinction of three textual divisions, 1401, 1405, and 1413, in the narratives of the Southern Chronicle, the Continuatio, and the English Chronicle. In Clifford's opinion, however, "there are...no very obvious signs of a break in continuity c. 1401," [3] nor was there a division at 1405. That there were indeed divisions at 1401, 1405, and 1413 was clearly demonstrated in the article referred to above, [4] thus refuting Clifford's conclusion that theContinuatio represents a contemporary narrative composed by a single chronicler in or around 1413. Evidence in support of this interpretation is afforded by two celebrated passages, both intended to blacken the reputation of Richard II: the bizarre crown-wearing in the king's passage from dinner until vespers, and the homiletic rant regarding Richard II's character. Neither of these examples is present in the text of the Short Chronicle (1401); but each is found definitively as interpolations in the text of the Continuatio with a terminus ad quem of 1405.

As with the question of its composition, considerations of the Continuatio's provenance and authorship have been equally controversial. Haydon designated Canterbury as its place of authorship; but for its authorship per se, he could only conclude that "I have been unable to discover anything which will lead to his identification...the personality of the writer is completely disguised." [5] The first, and only, attempt to identify the author was suggested by Jones, who observes that "the main portion of the work" (from 1395 to 1405) manifests "striking coincidences...in the life of John Trevor, bishop of St Asaph." [6]. Jones's postulation was subsequently countered by J. I. Catto, who noted that "the Continuatio is a Franciscan work...composed at the Canterbury convent of Greyfriars." [7] Clifford, who, although dismissing the Continuatio's provenance to Canterbury, attributes its authorship to a Franciscan Friar.

Without exception all subsequent scholarship regarding the intertwined issues of the Continuatio's composition, provenance, and authorship has been influenced by the combined influence of Catto and Clifford. For example, Antonia Gransden accepts the view that the Continuatio was probably written entirely by a single author, most likely a Franciscan at Canterbury, in the early 1400s. Similar views are put forward by John Taylor, who notes that theContinuatio "was the work of a single author, a Minorite from the Greyfriars at Canterbury." [8] The latest word, from William Marx' edition of An English Chronicle, homologates the standard interpretation of the Continuatio in noting that "it is probable that its author was a Franciscan and that the text is a near-contemporary account of events of the late century, and was completed after 1413 the date of its final entry) and before 1423 fourteenth and early fifteenth." [9]

Much the same is found in the views of Given-Wilson. Given-Wilson notes that "although the author of theContinuatio does not at any point reveal personal information identifying his name, location, or qualifications, there is no mistaking his interest in and knowledge of, first, events at Canterbury, and secondly, the affairs of the Franciscans" (xv). Thus, Given-Wilson concludes that internal evidence "suggests that the author of the Continatio was almost certainly a Franciscan, and probably based at the grey friars' convent at Canterbury" (xxi). In support of his impressions, Given-Wilson presents numerous and informative insights into the author's background. For example, we learn that the author probably studied theology and was educated in legal training, most likely at Oxford, and at the time of John Wycliffe's presence, described by the author as "the flower of Oxford." With these data in mind, Given-Wilson suggests that Robert Wicheford, associated with the Conterbury convent, "would appear to be a plausible candidate" for the authorship of the Continuatio (xxvii).

In what might be described as the most informative segment, Given-Wilson presents an extensive segment of meticulous research which lays out the importance and usefulness of the Continuatio's narrative. While it is true that it is laced with errors, particularly concerning chronology--fastidiously detailed in a table of incorrect datings of events throughout the entire text--Given-Wilson points out that this could be owing to the chronicle's not having been composed on an annual basis. In any event, Given-Wilson calls attention to several unique entries found only in theContinuatio. Among ten "wholly original" entries we find Archbishop Arundel's "harangues against Richard II" in the late 1390s; the celebrated passage recounting Richard II's haughty display of royal authority in his chamber from dinner to vespers; details attending Henry IV's execution of Franciscans in 1402; and internecine disputes among Franciscans in 1404-1405.

Perhaps most important, Given-Wilson lists a virtual slew of accounts, far too numerous to describe, of interesting entries "seemingly derived from eyewitnesses": events during the 1381 revolt; Richard II's interview with Londoners in 1392; the uproar in the parliament of 1401 related to the Welsh rebellion; the floods of 1408. Lastly, we are provided aspects of the chronicler's "distinctive slant on the rule of Richard II and Henry IV." Interestingly, Given-Wilson reckons that "more than 40 per cent of the Continuatio's narrative is dedicated to the period 1397 to 1405" (xxix). Most revealing are expressions of the author's sheer hatred for Richard II, expressed in passages revealing "Richard's penchant for extravagant display"; and we are apprised that our chronicler regarded Richard "as his own worst enemy "(xl; xxxvi). Given-Wilson notes that "By the late 1390s...it is becoming clear that it is Richard's own inclinations--his willfulness, his insecurity, his vindictiveness, his vainglory--that underlie England's descent into tyranny" (xli). As for Henry IV, Given-Wilson depicts the author's view as "deeply ambivalent," and he adds that "no other contemporary chronicler raises as many questions about Henry's claim to the throne as he does...its accumulation is telling" (xlii). Furthermore, the author opines that Henry's death was warranted; "divine justice, in the form of leprosy," brought him to his end.

As expected from others of Given-Wilson's works on chronicles, his edition of the Continuatio Eulogii represents yet another contribution of an important primary source. In all manner of ways Given-Wilson rehabilitates the worthiness of the Continuatio, dismissed by T. F. Tout as "a mass of gross errors," [10] and described by Given-Wilson himself in an earlier study as "a somewhat puzzling chronicle." [11] Long overdue, students of later medieval England, particularly those dedicated to the reign of Richard II and the subsequent Lancastrian revolution, have at last been provided a definitive edition, complete with translation, of the Continuatio Eulogii.

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1. F. S. Haydon (ed.), Eulogium Historiarum sive Temporis, 3 vols. (Rolls Series, 1858-63), iii, p. xlix.

2. S. N. Clifford, "An Edition of the Continuation of the Eulogium Historiarum, 1361-1413," (M. Phil. Thesis, University of Leeds, 1975), 23.

3. Ibid., 27.

4. G. B. Stow, "The Continuation of the Eulogium Historiarum: Some Revisionist Perspectives," English Historical Review 119, no. 482 (June 2004): 667-681.

5. Haydon, Eulogium Historiarum, iii, p. li.

6. E. J. Jones, "The Authorship of the Continuation of the Eulogium Historiarum: A Suggestion," Speculum 12 (1937): 202.

7. J. I. Catto, "An Alleged Great Council of 1374," English Historical Review 82, no. 325 (1967): 766.

8. John Taylor, English Historical Literature in the Fourteenth Century (Oxford 1987), 21.

9. William Marx, An English Chronicle 1377-1461 (Woodbridge, 2003), xxix.

10. T. F. Tout, Chapters in the Administrative History of Mediaeval England, 6 vols. (Manchester University Press, 1920-1933), iii, p. 396, n. 1.

11. Chris Given-Wilson, "The Manner of King Richard’s Renunciation: A Lancastrian Narrative?," English Historical Review 108 no. 427 (1993): 366.