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Ms. Roll 1066


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Historical Context: Background Essay by Marie Turner

Likely produced in London in the third quarter of the fifteenth century, the Genealogical Chronicle of the Kings of England, to Edward IV, known as UPenn Ms. Roll 1066, is a compilational tour de force of the greatest hits of medieval historians, assimilating the work of Geoffrey of Monmouth, William of Malmesbury, and Ranulf Higden, among others. The roll is an imposing physical presence: a staggering thirty-seven feet and thirteen membranes long; it chronicles the lineage of Yorkist king Edward IV beginning with Adam and Eve and ending with Edward IV (1461). This Chronicle also has a complex illustrative schema containing 174 bust-length portraits in color, five mandorlas with tinted full-length portraits, and eighty roundels containing crowns as well as several classic chronicle type-scenes including the Temptation of Adam, Noah after the Flood, and the city of Jerusalem. The Latin text is written in a standard late-medieval anglicana hand.

The date of the roll's production may be ascertained with some certainty. Although the latest events in the text chronicle the marriage of Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou in 1445 and the appointment of Edward's father, Richard, duke of York, as regent in France, an illustration of a young crowned Edward IV suggests that the roll was produced no earlier than 1461. Furthermore, while many similar rolls from the early years of Edward's reign depict his wife, Elizabeth Woodville, by his side, Penn's does not, allowing us to further pinpoint the date of production to the years between 1461 and Edward's marriage in 1464. In terms of provenance, little is known about the roll's life before it came to the University of Pennsylvania Rare Book & Manuscript Library in 2007. The manuscript was previously sold by Philip Duchnes in New York and came into the hands of collector Cornelius J. Hauck. Hauck gave his collection to the Cincinnati Historical Society in 1966, and the roll was subsequently sold at auction at Christie's, New York, as part of the Hauck Collection in 2006. One year later, the University of Pennsylvania Rare Book & Manuscript Library purchased the roll from Sam Fogg.

Penn's Chronicle can be added to the so-called Temporum group of fifteenth-century genealogical chronicles, named for their distinctive opening phrase, "Temporum summam lineamque descendentem" (taken from Roger of Wendover's Flores Historiarum, another frequent source). The previously identified members of the group are held by the Huntington Library (HM 264), Harvard University (bMS Typ 40), and Trinity College, Cambridge (MS R.4.52) respectively. Of these four, only the Penn and Harvard rolls share something approaching an identical text: the Huntington roll covers the same historical material but is either missing text in the middle or has severely compressed the history recorded in Ms. Roll 1066, and the Trinity version is greatly foreshortened, ending in the middle of British history.

Penn's roll is special in that it is really two genealogies in one: on the verso or back of the manuscript (ending on membrane 5) is a copy of the Compendium Historiae in Genealogia Christi attributed to Peter of Poitiers--a twelfth-century universal history told through the life of Christ. It is illustrated with several drawings and followed by a diagram of Roman emperors, popes, and several genealogies of Frankish kings. There is some evidence that the two texts were intended to be read together: the scribe (likely the same for both the recto and verso texts) deliberately matched up the Adam and Eve images on both sides of the roll, and the Chronicle's Christ medallion lines up perfectly with the Nativity image on the verso.

Historical Contexts

Late fifteenth-century English politics was marked by the so-called Wars of the Roses (c. 1455-1485), a series of dynastic battles fought for control of the throne between the two rival houses of Lancaster and York. UPenn Ms. Roll 1066 is a cultural artifact of this struggle: the fifteenth century sees a revival of genealogical literature (once popular in the twelfth and early thirteenth centuries) as pedigree and lineage were increasingly relied upon by the royal houses to stake their claims to the crown. When the house of Lancaster was replaced by that of York in 1461, the production of genealogical chronicles kicked into overdrive, the Yorkists churning out documents that present Edward IV as the rightful king, despite contemporaneous Lancastrian histories positioning him as usurper. Such propaganda was crucial at a time of such political uncertainty: Henry VI, Edward IV, and their heirs would play a game of musical thrones for more than a decade before a relative unknown named Henry Tudor arrived on the scene to claim the crown from Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth Field (22 August 1485), effectively ending the Wars of the Roses and the Plantagenet Dynasty.

In contrast to twelfth-century Latin chronicles, thirteenth-century encyclopedias, and fourteenth-century universal histories, fifteenth-century genealogical chronicles are often seen as derivative, crude, and aesthetically impoverished. The factionalism of late fifteenth-century Britain leads scholars to be interested in these kinds of chronicles mainly for their perceived propagandistic value, the ways in which they bolster claims to the throne or to ancient lineage. During the War of the Roses--which was as much a propaganda war between the Yorkist and Lancastrian factions as it was a series of bloody battles--it was nearly impossible for a historian to maintain the fiction of neutrality. Penn's roll presents a challenge to some of these modern scholarly assumptions.

While certainly pro-Edward IV, Ms. Roll 1066 often fails to draw the rigid claims to power we expect from the Yorkist propaganda machine. For example, though the scribe and artist clearly outline Edward IV's claim to the throne--it shows, parallel to the central line of royal descent, a Yorkist genealogy descending from Lionel of Antwerp, 3rd son of Edward III--it also lays out the competing claim of the Lancastrian line, descending from Edward III's 4th son, John of Gaunt. In other words, we see how a single document may argue for right rule at the same time that it accommodates different versions of history.

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