History Books in the Anglo-Norman World

TCD MS 177 f. 62v

TCD MS 177 f. 62v

The past was a popular subject in the Anglo-Norman world. Following the conquest of England in 1066, historians in the territories controlled by the kings of England sought to legitimise the new regime and make sense of the political circumstances in which they found themselves by exploring both the recent and distant past. Writers used a range of precedents in shaping their accounts, drawing on sources including the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, histories of the dukes of Normandy, and genealogical histories derived from the Bible. Although some works composed in the early twelfth century were primarily designed for use within a particular monastery, others, such as the histories produced by monks John at Worcester and William at Malmesbury, were widely copied and taken up by later generations of writers including Ralph of Diss and Matthew Paris. The surviving ‘history books’ vary significantly in size, format, quality of materials used and decoration. The study of these manuscripts thus sheds light on both the creation and reception of history in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.

The Manuscripts & Archives Research Library (M&ARL) holds an important collection of Anglo-Norman histories, most of which came from the collection of Archbishop James Ussher (d. 1656). Ussher was a keen collector of manuscripts, and his interest in history was linked to his attempt to establish the date of Creation, which he famously concluded must have taken place in 4004 BC. Ussher’s collection was given to Trinity College Library in 1661.

TCD MS 117 details of f. 110v

TCD MS 117 details of f. 110v

An exhibition of many of these manuscripts has been mounted in the Long Room of the Old Library Trinity College Dublin to coincide with the History Books in the Anglo-Norman World Conference 22-23 May 2015 organised by Dr Laura Cleaver of the Department of History of Art and Architecture. The exhibition will last for a month, and is accompanied by an online exhibition available here.

The conference is part of Dr Cleaver’s History Books in the Anglo-Norman World Project (2011-2015) which is supported by a Marie Curie Actions Grant, under the Seventh Framework Project. M&ARL has been a strong supporter of this project, liaising with researchers and enabling access to the relevant manuscripts in the M&ARL collection. We have also developed physical displays and online exhibitions.

Estelle Gittins

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