Medieval Writing
Paleography Exercises
15th century Brut Chronicle (British Library, add. ms. 33242, f.140-141). All images by permission of the British Library.
This example is really fun. The double page illustrated is from an imperfect copy of the Brut Chronicle which continues into the reign of Richard II. Now if you have been assiduously studying this website and have investigated the section entitled The Written Word, you will know that the Brut originated as an English translation from Latin, via a French version, of Geoffrey of Monmouth's History of the Kings of Britain, which describes the founding of Britain by the Trojan Brutus and tells the story of King Arthur. In later centuries more prosaic chronicles were simply added on to the legendary Brut to extend the time frame. There is a common version to 1333, which exists in various surviving manuscripts, and a range of variants for the events which happened after that date.

There is a text of the Brut and its continuations in a collated edition from various manuscripts, not including this particular example, in the Early English Text Society series. This section , from the continuations, is in Brie, F.W.D. (ed.) 1908 The Brut, Part II Early English Text Society, Original Series 136, London. Our segment of text here follows it pretty closely, but there are many differences of spelling.

Now there are people who believe that reading medieval chronicles is about as interesting as watching grass grow, and that they are simply very brief listings of kings, dates and battles. This fragment shows that there are fascinating little insights to be excavated from them.
The segment starts prosaically enough with Edward III making his son Prince of Wales. It follows with a brief description of the festivities when Edward founded his round table, an event designed in imitation of his famous legendary predecessor, Arthur. There is a curious entanglement between life and art here, for as the king is turning myth into reality, the chronicler is adding his words to the text of that myth. This event was described in more lavish detail in other chronicles, and the actual costs of the works done at Windsor Castle for the occasion survive in exchequer accounts.
round table
The round table in the hall of Winchester Castle.
The round table was a continuing symbol of English kingship. In this famous artifact, the paintwork is probably Tudor in date, but it is just possible that this may be the object made for the celebrations described in our chronicle here. Had these royal descendants of the invading Normans chosen to forget that Arthur's fame was based on defeating invaders?
In the next sequence the chronicler completely loses the plot in terms of making a sober record of events and launches into a tirade about the stupidity of the English in adopting foolish foreign fashions in clothing from the Hainaulters, Belgian court followers of the Queen, Philippa of Hainault. It is true that around the mid 14th century some wild and crazy fashions appeared, and styles of clothing which had remained relatively conservative for centuries vanished under a series of waves of fashion change and competitiveness in dress and appearance.
man's clothing The male figure here shows some of the new fashions that the chronicler complains of. His tunic is very short. There are long extraneous dangly bits on his sleeves, which are tight and fastened with a great row of tiny buttons. Clearly the Apocalypse was at hand when men ran around like this!
Rubbing of a brass funerary memorial to an unknown man of c.1360 in the parish church of Hampsthwaite, Yorkshire.
This lady is wearing what is known as a sideless cote-hardie; a dress with large panels missing in the side, revealing her garment beneath. She also has great excesses of buttons down the front and on the sleeves. This was also the beginning of the era of rapidly changing extravagant headgear for women. Old books about brasses sometimes describe this particular fashion as a reticulated headdress on the basis that it represents some kind of fancy hairnet, but three dimensional tombs of the period show that it is a cap with rows of tiny frills. As for the padding around the "arse", it is true that the lady appears to have somewhat exaggerated curves, but I had always assumed that they were just drawn that way. Not according to our chronicler, who gives us a hint at what ladies wore under their cote-hardie. Note that the word "arse" was a perfectly respectable word for bottom, backside or posterior in the 14th century.
woman's clothing
Rubbing of the brass effigy of Lady Margaret de Cobham, who died in 1375, in the church of Cobham in Kent.
After this distraction, the chronicler sends Edward off to the seige of Calais, and the page finishes with him burning, wasting and destroying a few hapless French towns on his way.
There are some scribal errors in the text, so that the odd sentence makes even less sense than usual. The text is written in a series of enormously long sentences without punctuation. There is some unusual spelling and some antiquated words, which all makes decoding the text a little complicated. It is worth the effort though, and shows that paleography can be fun.

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