- The Chronica Maiora of Thomas Walsingham (1376-1422)
It will be enormously useful to students of the later Middle Ages to have a readily accessible translation of Thomas Walsingham's Chronica Maiora, the single most important narrative source for English history between the Good Parliament of 1376 and the death of Henry V in 1422; and, after having had to wait so long for one, it is more than a little ironic that two have now appeared within the space of two years. In 2003, Oxford Medieval Texts published the first volume of The St. Albans Chronicle: The Chronica Maiora of Thomas Walsingham, edited by John Taylor, Wendy Childs, and Leslie Watkiss, which contained both the text and translation from 1376 to 1394 (volume 2, from 1394 to 1422, is forthcoming), and now David Preest and James Clark have published this translation (with introduction and footnotes, but lacking the original Latin text) of the whole chronicle.
The first question that needs to be asked, however, is whether this is indeed the Chronica Maiora of Thomas Walsingham. The authorship and [End Page 303] relationship of the various chronicles written at St. Albans during this period is, of course, a complex and much-debated question, but ever since the publication between the 1920's and the 1940's of V. H. Galbraith's seminal articles on these texts, the general—though not unanimous—opinion has been that it is the chronicle which goes by the title of Annales Ricardi Secundi et Henrici Quarti which constitutes the fullest printed text of the Chronica Maiora for the years 1392 to 1406. This does not mean that it constitutes the fullest text, which is probably to be found in British Library Ms. Bodley 462, which is being used by Taylor, Childs, and Watkiss as the basis of their edition and translation. But it is certainly a significantly fuller chronicle of these years than is to be found in the Historia Anglicana, which Clark and Preest have used as the basis of this translation (collated with Galbraith's edition of the so-called St. Albans Chronicle from 1406 to 1420). James Clark has stated on a number of occasions that he considers it unlikely that Walsingham wrote the chronicle printed as the Annales; he considers the abbot's chaplain, William Wintershill, a more plausible candidate (p. 19). This may be the case (although it does not seem to be an opinion shared by Taylor, Childs, and Watkiss), but for a work entitled The Chronica Maiora of Thomas Walsingham, there is strangely little discussion in the introduction about these opposing points of view.
Nevertheless, given that the fuller St. Albans/Walsingham text will before long appear in Oxford Medieval Texts, it is in a certain sense fortuitous that translations of both the longer and the shorter versions of these texts will now be available. For these are, in truth, marvelous chronicles. Walsingham was the last great monastic chronicler of the English Middle Ages, and he is in most respects fit to rank alongside the best of them:inquisitive, informed, deeply chauvinistic and prejudiced, fiercely devoted to St. Albans and the monastic profession. Walsingham's love of anecdote and caustic wit brought out in his work both the best and the worst in the English monastic tradition of historiography. Moreover, as James Clark has emphasized in a series of deeply perceptive publications over the past few years, Walsingham's historical writing was consistently informed by his classical learning, making him not just the last great English chronicler of the Middle Ages, but simultaneously one of England's first 'Renaissance' historians: thus "he cultivates a classical style of narration in which even the most commonplace events . . . are reported as moments of great passion and high drama"(p. 9). Much of his narrative, not surprisingly, concerned the travails of the Catholic Church at this time: after all, his chronicle coincided almost exactly with the Great Schism in the Church (1378-1417), which permitted Walsingham...