Library Dissertation Showcase

Kingship in Matthew Paris’s Chronica Majora

  • Year of Publication:
  • 2016

Matthew Paris, a monk of the English Benedictine abbey at St. Albans, was an accomplished artist and cartographer, and perhaps one of the most prolific historians of the thirteenth-century. The vast oeuvre attributed to Paris includes a history of the English isles from the Norman Conquest to 1250 (the Historia Anglorum), two additional revisions of the former (that is, the Flores Historiarum and the Abbreviatio Chronicarum), a history of the abbots of St. Albans (Gesta Abbatum), an account of the Anglo-Saxon kings Offa I and II (Vitae duorum Offarum), and a Anglo-Norman Vitae of Stephen Langton, Thomas Becket, Edward the Confessor and St. Edmund of Canterbury. To examine these works thoroughly and individually would, however, likely surpass the space available here. Instead, the following chapters will focus on the Chronica Majora, a hugely detailed account centred on England from 1235 to 1259, and a work on which Paris’s reputation as a historian stands or falls. Before returning to this concept, it is worth reiterating just how expansive Paris’s reporting was, and indeed, how varied the information that he gathered. In the Chronica, Paris recorded the various Mongolian invasions; the conflict between Emperor Frederick II and the Papacy in 1244; the numerous crusades to the Holy Land; and, perhaps most importantly given the purpose of this study, an account of the conflict between the English Barons and Henry III in 1258-1267. The list could easily be continued, but the above-mentioned already points to the kind of information which Paris was concerned with, and, equally, to his view of the world in which he operated. As will become clear, Paris selected information in order to promulgate instructive anecdotes that would guide his audience along the righteous path to eternal salvation. Historical writing could provide this in both the traditional sense by offering examples to his readers to emulate and details of traits and behaviours to avoid, but also by providing the means with which to decipher miraculous interactions between the secular and divine.

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