Manuscripts: Genealogical manuscripts
celebrating one's family history are fairly common throughout later
medieval England. Many combine the twelfth century Compendium Historia
in Genealogia Christi of Peter of Poitiers, a history of the world
through the birth of Christ, with the British legends of Geoffrey of
Monmouth and with more recent family records.
genealogy of the Mortimer family, the "Wigmore Manuscript," contains
a Brut, a genealogy of the English kings, and a genealogy of
the Mortimer family. It apparently was designed to advance the Mortimer
family's claim to the throne of England in the later fourteenth century
in preference to that of the descendants of John of Gaunt, presaging
the Yorkists' genealogical arguments and appeal to the "British" heritage.
Richard II had a pedigree that traced his descent from Noah. During
the reign of Henry VI, when his marriage had not yet produced an heir,
the succession was again an issue. Concerned that Richard, duke of
York might present a strong case to be named the heir apparent, Henry
VI's advisors produced a series of pedigrees, including some that omitted
the son of Edward III from whom York could claim superior descent.
Some surviving pedigrees of fifteenth-century nobility include genealogies
of the Percy family, the Nevilles, and a remarkable document celebrating
the achievements of Richard Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick.
In the case of Edward
IV, the large number of surviving manuscripts suggests that they were
consciously produced in large numbers as part of a program to influence
the opinion of the nobility and the gentry as well as wealthier merchants,
a group who in turn could influence large numbers of friends, supporters,
and adherents. Some of these manuscripts are in Latin, others in English,
and most of them begin with a version of a standard considerans text,
in which the writer explains that considering the difficulty of reading
old books and the limited time many have to study them, he will write
a brief history of the world from Creation to Christ "to take
away length from him that is weary and of little will, comfort and
solace in form and figure to the bodily eye, and comfort and grace
to them that are well-willed."
To this one fifteenth-century
writer adds that "I behold that many men desire greatly to have
knowledge of chronicles of kings that aforetime reigned in this land;
therefore, I have put the names of them in this work, from Japhet the
son of Noah lineally descending to Brutus the first king...and from
him to Edward the fourth king of that name after the conquest of England." These
manuscripts follow a standard format, with one large illustration showing
the Fall of Man, and with minimal illustration thereafter.
depart significantly from this pattern. One is the manuscript explored
here. The other, in the British Library, is a typological life of Edward
IV. The term "typology" is usually reserved for religious
studies, and refers to finding parallels between Old Testament prophecies
about the Messiah and the life of Christ. In the "typological
life of Edward IV," Old Testament episodes are paired visually
with episodes from the life of Edward IV in five pairs of images presented
side-by-side. An illustration of Joshua at the battle of Jericho, for
example, is paired with an illustration of Edward IV in battle. In
another, David the shepherd has a vision of three men, foreshadowing
the Trinity. This is paired with Edward's vision of the three suns
in the sky before the battle of Mortimer's Cross -- and the three suns
in turn are paired with the three crowns of England, France, and Spain.
In another pair, the infant Moses floating down the Nile in a woven
basket foreshadows Edward's escape across the Channel to Calais.
Following the five
pairs of illustrations, a genealogy of the kings of England since Henry
III takes the form of a tree of Jesse, a popular medieval way of conveying
Jesus' pedigree from the House of David and beyond. In this genealogy,
though, the culmination is not Christ but Edward IV, who survives the
attempts of the usurping Henries to lop off the branch from which he
- The best review
of genealogies of Edward IV can be found in Alison Allan, "Yorkist
propaganda: Pedigree, prophecy and the 'British history' in the reign
of Edward IV," in C. D. Ross (ed.), Patronage, Pedigree and
Power in Later Medieval England, Alan Sutton, Rowman & Littlefield,
1979. Her notes identify seventeen of these genealogies, but not
the Free Library manuscript.
- The quotations
from the considerans text and the fifteenth-century continuator
are from Bodleian Ms. Lyell 33, transcribed and rendered in modern
English by the author.
- The "typological
life of Edward IV" is found in British Library Harleian Ms.
7353. Scenes from the manuscript are reproduced in A. J. Pollard, Richard
III and the Princes in the Tower, St. Martin's Press, 1991, pages
40, 41 and 53.