Christian Works : Speculum historiale de gestis regum Anglie

Richard of Cirencester

Christian Works

<p style='text-align: justify;'><p>This manuscript contains the only known copy of the <i>Speculum historiale de gestis regum Anglie</i> of Richard of Cirencester (b. before 1340, d. 1400), monk of Westminster Abbey. A few records of Richard's life survive. He was first recorded as a novice in 1354-55; said his first Mass in 1361-62; and spent a brief period in 1364-1365 at Gloucester College, the Benedictine house in Oxford, before returning to his native abbey and likely beginning the compilation of this chronicle shortly thereafter. He held a couple of offices at intervals during his life: precentor, and later warden of the lady chapel between 1382 and 1383. In 1391, he was granted a license to go to Rome, but it is not known whether or not he made the journey. His presence in the abbey infirmary was recorded in 1400, the year in which he is thought to have died.</p><p>The <i>Speculum historiale</i> is divided into four books, covering the period 447 to 1066, with much of its contents derived from other, mainly chronicle, sources. At the end of this manuscript, a rubric records the author's intention to compose a second part, commencing with the birth of William the Conqueror, but no such continuation has been identified and it is unlikely that it was ever written (see Additions). Set within the context of this broader narrative are substantial sections devoted to the history of Westminster Abbey. Its foundation is described at length (ff. <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(66);return false;'>29v-31v</a>); a tract by William of Sudbury, another monk of Westminster, was inserted in its entirety (ff. <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(288);return false;'>140v-145v</a>) and most of the fourth book is dedicated to the life and miracles of Edward the Confessor, the abbey's patron saint (f. <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(424);return false;'>208v</a> onwards).</p><p>Claims relating to the manuscript's medieval provenance rest on an observation by J.E.B. Mayor, who edited the text as part of the Rolls Series: 'As the initials of the chapters relating to Westminster Abbey are specially elaborate, we may infer that this was the Abbey copy of the book' (Mayor, vol. 2, p. clxv). The first such initial occurs at the start of the chapter concerning the dedication of Westminster and the appointment of two bishops, Mellitus and Justus, by Augustine (d. 604), missionary and first archbishop of Canterbury (f. <a href='' onclick='store.loadPage(66);return false;'>29v</a>). Similar such initials are found at the beginning of a dozen other chapters, however the connection between their subject-matter and Westminster is less clear. The manuscript was not included among those listed as belonging to Westminster in Neil Ker, <i> Medieval Libraries of Great Britain</i>, 2nd ed. (1964), p. 196 (nor is it in its digital successor, <a target='_blank' class='externalLink' href='http://mlgb3.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/'><i>MLGB3</i></a>). The approximate date of the manuscript's production, based on palaeographical evidence, suggests that it was copied within Richard's own lifetime, however. Given that no other copies are recorded in any surviving medieval book-list or inventory, its circulation appears to have been strictly limited - but whether this is the only copy that was ever made, and might be therefore the author's own copy, cannot presently be determined. Certainly, it cannot wholly be his autograph, since three hands were involved in its production, but it is possible that this represents a clean copy produced by amanuenses working for or in collaboration with Richard himself.</p><p>Dr James Freeman, Medieval Manuscripts Specialist, Cambridge Uuniversity Library</p></p>


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