Help Now >
FREE Catholic Classes
The historical literature of the Middle Ages may be classed under three general heads: chronicles, annals, and lives of the saints.
Chronicles originated in ancient Greece, while annals are first found among the Romans. During the Middle Ages the term chronicle included every form of history, but the word in its earliest usage signified simply a chronological table. As a matter of fact, profane history, as dealt with by Pagan historians, no longer appealed to Christian writers. History, as viewed from the Christian standpoint, took into account only the Kingdom of God, and to the new generation the centre of such history was the narration of the misfortunes undergone by the Jewish nation, a subject ignored by Roman historians. Christians had need of a new general history in sympathy with their ideal. It was necessary, first of all, to synchronize the dates of Christian and profane chronology, so that an attempt might be made to combine the subject-matter of both. Thus it was that chronicles came into existence. Sextus Julius Africanus (221) attempted to synchronize the facts of profane history with those of the Bible . After him Eusebius (340), in his "Universal History", continuing the class of work originated by Africanus, compiled a chronological table in expository form, followed by synchronistic tables reaching to 325. This chronological narrative, or chronicle, of Eusebius was the source of all universal chronicles, both Byzantine and Western. It was continued up to 378 by St. Jerome, and the revision is found at the beginning of all the universal histories of the Middle Ages. It was this chronicle that fixed forever the form to be adopted in the annalistic record of events. Chronicles were, as a rule, nothing more than collections of dates without causal connection or synthesis. The genius of one writer, St. Augustine, conceived an original way of fusing matter in a universal history, and embodied it in his treatise on "The Two Cities". He had no disciples, however, in the Middle Ages. These early chronicles reviewed the facts of universal history, and are to be distinguished from the chronicles of the eleventh century, which are merely local narratives chiefly concerning the history of the author's country. Moreover, the chronicles deal chiefly with the past, and this distinguishes them from annals properly so called.
The term annals , though often confused with chronicles, nevertheless indicates a different class. Like chronicles, they are chronological records, but taken down successively, registering from day to day the events of each year. This gives an idea of the fundamental distinction between annals and chronicles. Chronicles are ordinarily compilations requiring lengthy preparatory work, arranged after a preconceived plan, and revealing the personality of their author in the conduct of the narrative. Annals, on the other hand, are original, and are to be consulted as sources at first hand. Being written from day to day, they require no effort of composition; they reveal a succession of many hands, and leave an impression of impersonal labour. They might well be compared with our daily papers, while chronicles come nearest to our modern memoirs. The prototype of all medieval annals is the famous "Chronographus", or Calendar, of 354, an official document of the Roman Empire, containing in embryo the annals of later periods. Besides an official calendar, and other items, this precious document has a record of other consular annals up to 354, the paschal tables for the hundred years succeeding 312, a list of the popes up to Liberius, and a universal chronicle reaching as far as 338. Besides the consular annals drawn up at Ravenna, and of great importance for the fifth century, the paschal tables are interesting, inasmuch as they throw light upon the origin of medieval annals. Consular annals, and the method of calculation according to imperial reigns, were indeed of necessity before the ancient chronological system was abandoned. But once this custom fell into disuse, the paschal tables, used to determine the date of Easter and other movable feasts, became the basis of the chronology of the day. Every church of any importance possessed a copy, and once Dionysius Exiguus had admitted the canon of Cyril, Bishop of Alexandria, for calculating the dates of the Christian era, and Bede had inserted these tables in his work entitled "De ratione temporum", the influence exerted by such tables increased.
ORIGIN OF ANNALS
The use of paschal tables was very early prevalent in England, and the custom of making a chronological list of events was introduced into Gaul and Germany by Anglo-Saxon missionaries, who began their labours on the continent during the course of the seventh century. In the margin of these paschal cycles notes were made, opposite the year, of occurrences and historical events of which it was desired to keep a record. This is the origin of annals. The list of popes, as given by the "Chronographus" of 354, furnishes a concrete example of the formation of annals. This list, dating back to 230, was continually being filled out, and little by little it was embellished by an account of the chief events of the pontificate, a list of the works undertaken by the various pontiffs, their merits, details of ecclesiastical organization, and the management of their finances. This was the beginning of the famous "Pontificale Romanum", more commonly known under the title of "Liber Pontificalis". In imitation of this collection, there developed in many cathedrals and abbeys similar records, modelled on the plan of the "Liber Pontificalis". We may cite as an example the "Gesta episcoporum Antissiodorensium" of Henry of Auxerre (841), also the greater number of local histories of abbeys or episcopal sees gathered in the eleventh century under such titles as "Gesta episcoporum Cameracensium", "Gesta episcoporum Leodiensium", etc. The annals which we found in embryo in the "Chronographus" and the "Liber Pontificalis" do not appear in a well-defined form until the Carlovingian period. At least no specimens have come down to us dating from Merovingian times, and we can easily see why on the continent annals appear only towards the end of the eighth century. Having originated in England, where the tables of Bede were amplified by marginal annotations more copious as time went on, these rudimentary annals were introduced everywhere by the Anglo-Saxon missionaries. Copies were soon made of the marginal notes, and they were passed from hand to hand, and from monastery to monastery. Where copied separately, these notes formed the general basis of all medieval annals. To these notes as a nucleus were added local data; the different versions were compared and arranged in chronological order; other annotations were made, of special local interest; lastly, they were filled out from other sources. Some of the earliest annals clearly betray their foreign source or origin. Thus the "Annales Mosellani", taken from the great annals of the monastery of Lorsch, show at the beginning of the records for 704-707 names undoubtedly Irish, proving that the little chronicle "De temporibus" of Bede was in use until 708, when original notes of Frankish origin appear for the first time. Of great interest, also, from this point of view are the annals discovered by Pertz in a manuscript of St.-Germain-des-Prés. They begin with short annotations from Lindisfarne, for the years 643-664. Next in order come notes of Canterbury for 673-690. It appears that Alcuin took this manuscript from England to the court of Charlemagne and there, from 782 to 787, inserted yearly the names of the different places where the Emperor celebrated Easter. To this primitive basis the monks of Saint-Germain-des-Prés added local annotations based in turn on ancient annals of Saint-Denis reaching to 887. In conclusion, names from Lindisfarne are found heading the annals of Fulda and Corvei. The earliest Carlovingian annals are now grouped by historians under three principal heads:
- (1) The "Annales S. Amandi", and others derived from them;
- (2) The annals which grew out of the early historical annotations of the monastery of Lorsch ;
- (3) The "Annales Murbacenses".
In spite of the impersonal character of these narratives, they show traces of true Carlovingian legitimism, as well as the loyalty of their authors to the Austrasian dynasty. They are not continuous narratives, and their rudimentary form, consisting of a simple arrangement of recollections in chronological order, recalls the earliest stage of this class of literature. In Belgium especially these early annals were filled out in various monasteries, until after many alterations they formed the basis of the celebrated Chronicle of Sigebert of Gembloux (1112).
Under Charlemagne annals as a class begin to appear in a new form. These narratives are without doubt anonymous, but many of them bear a personal stamp, which gives to the whole a certain official character. There now becomes apparent in annals a tendency to form a history of the kingdom, written under the inspiration of the court. Whence we have the term "Reichsannalen" in order to distinguish the latter class from monastic annals. The historian Ranke (Zur Kritik fränkisch-deutscher Reichsannalisten. Berlin, 1854) has demonstrated this official tendency especially in connection with the "Annales Laurissenses maiores". These annals could not have been written in the solitude of the cloister without external influence. If, on the one hand, the great internal misfortunes and dissensions of the kingdom are carefully ignored, so as not to cast discredit on the reigning princes, the writers of these annals are nevertheless very well informed and, on the other hand, show themselves to be fully in touch with whatever concerns military manœuvres and international affairs. After 796 the "Annales Laurissenses maiores" are written in an entirely different style, and in the form which characterizes them from this time until 829 there is a tendency to regard them as coming in part from the pen of Einhard. This is still, however, a controverted question. As the "Reichsannalen" date only from 741, need was felt of obtaining information on the history of the preceding period, and with this purpose in view (according to the opinion of Waitz) the "Chronicon Universale" (see "Monumenta Germaniæ Historica: Scriptores", XIII, 1-19) was drawn up about 761. There we find extracts from the "Little Chronicle" of Bede, diversified by matter borrowed from St. Jerome, Orosius, the chronicle of Fredegarius and his successors, the Gesta Francorum, the chronicle of Isidore of Seville, the "Liber Pontificalis", the "Annales Mosellani", and the "Annales Laureshamenses". From about this same period data the "Annales Laurissenses minores" (806?), the "Annales Maximiani" (710-811) and the "Annales of Flavigny" (816). The "Reichsannalen" were in greatest vogue, it is now thought, during the unity of the Carlovingian empire under Charlemagne. Though the Carlovingian monarchy was divided by the Treaty of Verdun (843), we find in the now independent Provinces direct continuations of the "Reichsannalen". In Germany the reigns of Louis the Pious and his sons produced the "Annales Fuldenses". There is no doubt that they were written in a monastery, and the character of their contents betrays a local origin, although they pretend to review the history of the whole kingdom. The author must certainly have been in touch with the court. The narrative is objective and of great value. For the period from 711 to 829, they draw upon the royal annals, from 714 to 741 on the "Annales Laurissenses minores" and from 741 to 823 they take their inspiration from "Annales Lithienses", which in turn have an undoubtedly official character. A species of Reichsannalen is found in the "Annales Mettenses". In France also we have continuations of the "Reichsannalen", The "Annales Bertiniani" begin to exhibit 830-835 a universal character. These annals are almost the only source of the "Chronicon de gestis Normannorum in Franciâ", and after 835 were supplemented by the pen of Prudentius of Troyes (died 861). They were continued by Hincmar of Reims to 882. Later these annals with the "Annales Vedastini" passed into the "Chronicon Vedastinum", an attempt at a general history extending as far as 899. This class of annals was continued in the tenth century by Flodoard of Reims (died 966), who reviewed the chief events from 919 to 966. The Reichsannalen were in vogue only in those countries that had once been part of the Carlovingian empire. For Lotharingia we must mention the "Chronicle" of Regino, Abbot of Prüm (died 915), which covers the period between the birth of Christ and 906. The work is arranged according to the chronological list of the reigns of emperors, and the form resembles that of the Reichsannalen. Nevertheless, there is this difference, that Regino reviews the events of the past while the royal annals were contemporary with the events they recorded. In countries which were at some distance from the centre of the Carlovingian empire, or which had never been under the sway of Charlemagne and his successors, annals took either the form of chronicles, with pretentions to a universal character, or were merely local narratives, as those which appeared in Carlovingian provinces after the tenth and eleventh centuries.
ANNALS IN ITALY
Thus Italy is very poor in annals, a barrenness which is attributed to the lack of speculative and theological interests in the country. It is difficult to give any praise to such examples as the "Chronica Sancti Benedicti Casinensis", written at Monte Cassino, under the Abbot John (914-934); the "Constructio Farfensis", a history of the foundation of the abbey, written at Farfa in the middle of the ninth century; an extract from Paul the Deacon with continuation, the "Andreæ presbyteri Bergomatis chronicon", written at Bergamo in 877; and the chronicle of Benedict of St. Andrew, at Mount Soracte in 968, which, unfortunately, is filled with legends. All these productions, conceived in the annalistic style, are extremely barbarous. The one noteworthy exception is the "Chronicon Salernitanum" of 974, which has some claims to literary merit. The matter is good despite the lack of critical ability which disfigures the work.
In Spain we find only universal annals or chronicles. Mention may be made of the "Chronicon" of Idatius, Bishop of Galicia (870), who continued the Chronicle of St. Jerome ; and the Chronicle of Isidore of Seville, "De sex aetatibus mundi", one of the earliest types of annals, dated according to the Spanish era, which began thirty-eight years before the Christian era.
England, where annals based on the paschal cycle had their origin, furnished but few examples of this class, as compared with France and Germany. Worthy of notice are the "Annales Cantuarmenses" (618-690); the "Historia Eliensis Ecclesiæ" (700); the paschal tables and chronicle of Bede ; the "Annales Nordhumbrani" (734-802); the "Annales Lindisfarnenses" (532-993); the "Annales Cambriæ" (444-1066), etc. In this country historiography proper begins only with the Norman Conquest (1066). At that time the authors of English chronicles begin to be vastly superior to others in their adherence to fact, and they evince a remarkable zeal for accuracy of information, and the employment and investigation of diplomatic documents.
ln medieval Ireland there was "a special class of persons who made it their business to record, with the utmost accuracy, all remarkable events, simply and briefly, without any ornament of language, without exaggeration, and without fictitious embellishment" (Joyce). As a rule they noted down only what occurred during their own lives; earlier happenings were regularly taken from previous compilations constructed on the same plan. The general accuracy of these records has been tested and verified in various ways, e.g. by their references to physical phenomena of known date (eclipses, comets), the concurrent testimony of foreign writers, their own consistency among themselves, and the evidence of ancient monuments. Many of the ancient Irish annals have disappeared and are known only by name; not a few, however, are still extant. To a great extent they were composed in the native Irish tongue, and they remain yet important philological monuments. Among these "Annals" written entirely or mostly in Irish are the following: The "Synchronisms of Flann", principal of the school of Monasterboice (died 1056), known as "the Annalist" and the most learned scholar of his age in Ireland. This work exhibits in parallel columns the succession and regnal years of several pre-Christian, foreign dynasties, and a carefully constructed series of the Kings of Ireland. It contains, also, parallel lists of the same monarchs, and the provincial Kings of Ireland and the Kings of Scotland, from the time of St. Patrick to 1119. This work, composed in elaborate Irish metres, includes nearly 4,000 lines, and is really annals or history versified, a kind of class-book or manual of general history for the use of his pupils (Hyde). Imperfect copies of it are preserved at Dublin in the "Book of Lecan" and the "Book of Ballymote". The "Annals of Tigernach" (Teerna), written in Irish with an admixture of Latin, deal chiefly with the history of Ireland. He was Abbot of Clonmacnoise and Roscommon and died in 1088; it is conjectured by M. d'Arbois de Jubainville that his annals (valuable but meagre) were based on some ancient records kept uninterruptedly at Clonmacnoise from 544, the year of its foundation. These annals were edited by Whitley Stokes in the sixteenth and seventeenth volumes of the "Revue Celtique" (Paris, 1895-96).
The "Annals of Innisfallen", compiled in the abbey of that name on an island in the Lakes of Killarney, where its ruins are still visible, written in Irish and Latin, are generally ascribed to the year 1215, though "there is good reason to believe that they were commenced two centuries earlier" (Joyce). They were later on continued to 1318 (O'Conor, SS. Rer. Hib., 1825). The "Annals of Ulster" were written on the little island of Senait MacManus or Belle Isle in Upper Lough Erne. They deal almost exclusively with Ireland from 444 and were originally compiled by Cathal (Cabal) Maguire, who died in 1498, continued to 1541 by Rory O'Cassidy, and by an anonymous writer to 1604. They have been edited and translated in four volumes (vol. I, by W. M. Hennessy, vols. II-IV by B. MacCarthy, Rolls Series, London, 1887-1901). The "Annals of Loch Cé" (Key), from an island in Lough Key, Roscommon, are written in Irish, and treat chiefly of Ireland (1014 to 1636), though English, Scotch, and continental happenings are noticed. They were edited for the Rolls Series by W. M- Hennessy (London, 1871). The "Annals of Connaught" from 1224 to 1562 are written in Irish, and are extant in manuscript copies in Trinity College, and in the Royal Irish Academy, Dublin. The "Annals of Boyle ", a famous abbey in Roscommon, are written in Irish and Latin, and though very meagre, come down from the remotest period to 1253 (O'Conor, SS. Rer. Hib. 1829). There is a vellum copy in the British Museum. The "Chronicon Scotorum" (Chronicle of the Scots, or Irish ), of uncertain origin, but written out in its present shape about 1650 by the Irish antiquary Duald MacFirbis, was edited and translated for the Rolls Series by W. M. Hennessy (London, 1866). The "Annals of Clonmacnoise " from a very early date to 1408 were written originally in Irish, but are now known only in an English translation made in 1627. They were recently edited by Rev. Denis Murphy, S.J. (Dublin, 1896). It was only after the Norman Conquest that exclusively Latin annals were written in Ireland. Probably the most ancient of them are the "Annals of Multifarnan", from the beginning of the Christian era to 1224, edited by Aquilla Smith for the Irish Archæological Society (Dublin, 1849). The same society published also the Latin annals of John Clyn (a Kilkenny Franciscan ) and Thady Dowling, from the birth of Christ to 1348, "mere entries of names and facts". The "Annales Hiberniæ" of Christopher Pembridge, from 1162 to 1370, are said to be for that period "the chief authority on the affairs of the English settlement in Ireland " (ed. J. T. Gilbert, Rolls Series, London, 1884).
The annals of the Carlovingian period, the Reichsannalen, and their continuations are to be found all through the Middle Ages. In the eleventh century, however, there appeared a new class of annals, which it is of importance to describe, for they sprang from new social conditions. By this time the feudal system had succeeded the former unity of the Carlovingian kingdom. Each estate (fief), both lay and ecclesiastical, had become a little world apart, having full charge of its own life. The political sense and the sympathy of common interests disappeared, and churches and monasteries busied themselves chiefly with their saints, their relies, and their local interests. The consequences soon appeared in the province of historiography. There could now be no question of general or universal history. Local history prevailed, and with the exception of Germany, where the great universal concept of the Roman Empire had persisted, and where the great Chronicles suffer no default during this period, other lands give us chiefly monastic annals and local histories. The most important of these are the episcopal annals or chronicles, which review the history of the diocese or metropolis. They are generally arranged after the plan of the "Liber Pontificalis" , and relate in connection with each bishop or abbot the chief events and achievements of his administration in chronological order. Attempts had been made along the same line previous to the eleventh century; among the most remarkable annals of this earlier period we may mention the "Gesta abbatum Fontainellensium" (834-845), the "Gesta episcoporum Mettensium" of Paul the Deacon (eighth century), the "Acta Vetusta Abbatum Fuldensium" (ninth century), the "Gesta episcoporum Virdunensium" (917), the "Gesta episcoporum Antissiodorensium" (ninth century), the "Gesta episcoporum Tungrensium" of Herigerus of Lobbes (980), the "Acta episcoporum Cenomanensium" (850-856), the "Gesta episcoporum Neapolitanorum" (ninth century), the "Gesta episcoporum Halberstadensium"(968-994). Already there are genuine Chronicles, written by a single author after a preconceived plan, with an informing idea which dominates the narrative, giving it a personal character. The form alone still recalls earlier annals. During the eleventh century examples of this class were produced in Belgium : at Cambrai the "Gesta episcoporum Cameracensium", written by a clerk of the cathedral ; at Liège the "Gesta episcoporum Leodiensium", by the Canon Anselm, a work directly connected with the chronicle of Herigerus of Lobbes. There are, even at this early period, great annals, real chronicles, embodying diplomas and acts of donation, with the subject-matter well synthesized. From this time on it is hard to distinguish between annals and chronicles. In addition we come across manuscripts, like the "Annales" of Lambert of Hersfeld (1077-80), which are in reality personal memoirs. By the side of these episcopal chronicles there appear an immense number of local monastic annals, which record with minute fidelity things of interest to the monastery — donations, misfortunes, floods, storms, transfers of relics, etc. — a miscellany reminding us of the various items of our daily papers. Some of these annals still recall the far-off origin of this class of literature by their titles; thus, for example, the "Chronicon Sti. Dionysii ad cycles paschales" (eleventh and twelfth centuries). Every monastery of any importance possessed these collections of notes, the total number of which is extremely large. This movement is closely connected with the monastic revival, which began in the eleventh century owing to the Reforms of Cluny. With this religious awakening are connected two movements, one internal, the other external, which contributed not a little to the development of medieval histeriography. On the one hand we have the Quarrel of Investitures and on the other the Crusades. For the Quarrel of Investitures, mention should be made above all of Lambert of Hersfeld, already named, and the celebrated chronicler Otto of Freising en, or Bamberg (died 1158). Son of St. Leopold of Austria, and related through his mother to the line of emperors, Otto was invited by Frederick Barbarossa, personally, to write the history of his times. It was for Frederick that he composed his "Chronicon", a universal history in eight books, filled with philosophical ideas, and imitating "De Civitate Dei" by St. Augustine. Otto reached the history of his own time (1100-46) in the seventh volume. The work was interrupted by his death, and was continued by Ragewin, Provost of Freisingen, who added four volumes (1155-60). The whole is remarkable for the manner in which events are linked together.
Help Now >
To this period belong the great Anglo-Norman chronicles, which came into existence with the conquest of William of Normandy . The principal Anglo-Norman chronicles were written by foreigners, the Normans of France : William of Jumièges, who in his "Historia Normannorum" gives a résumé of the chronicle of Dudan of Saint-Quentin (860-1002) and continues it up to 1135; Ordericus Vitalis, the most important of all, who wrote a general history of the Normans in France, England, and Sicily, under the title "Historia Ecclesiastica", covering the period from the beginning of the Christian era to 1142. Lastly we have William of Malmesbury (died 1148), who wrote the history of England, beginning with its Saxon origins, under the title "De Gestis Anglorum" in five books (449-1126), with a Supplement, "Historia Novella" (1126-46). At this time also there appeared two great chronicles, the "Chronica" of Roger Hoveden (732-1201) and the "Chronica major" of Matthew of Paris, beginning with time creation and continuing up to 1259. During the same period the Crusades gave the impulse for a new sort of literature, very important from an ecclesiastical point of view. The chief historian of this school, the author who furnishes us the true type of this class of literature, is William of Tyre, historian of the Latin kingdom of Jerusalem. Although based in part on the chronicle of Albert of Aix (1121), his history becomes entirely original on reaching the Second Crusade (1147-48). The author is extraordinarily learned, having a knowledge of classic literature and an acquaintance with the works of Arab historians. He was skilled in the art of narration, showed exceptional talent in arrangement of his characters, and in logical presentation of facts. His "Belli Sacri historia" is a work remarkable for the times. In Spain the most important Chronicle for the period of the Crusades is the "Chronica Hispaniæ" of Rodriguez, Archbishop of Toledo (1243), which is original in the section on the thirteenth century. The Crusades also gave birth to two other classes of historical literature: a revival of universal chronicles, and the Chronicles and Annals written in the vernacular.
The annals and chronicles of the feudal period put into circulation an amount of disconnected information, and an attempt was now made to meet the need of a new method of synthesis, which was making itself felt. Universal and general history, which had disappeared at the advent of feudalism, gained fresh vigour during the Crusades, when the different territories and populations came once more into contact with each other and the political horizon widened out. These Latin annals and chronicles bear a close resemblance to one another and rest for the most part on common sources. Patient toil has been required to distinguish between the originals and copies. They differ only in the point of departure of the various narratives. The majority begin with the Creation of the World, some with the Christian era. The prototypes of these chronicles were universal annals written in Germany, the most celebrated of which is the "Chronicon" of Herman Contractus , monk of Reichenau (died 1054). The author begins at the birth of Christ and is remarkable for the number of sources which he has utilized and the care exercised in establishing his chronology. This "Chronicon" was begun after the year 1048 and stopped at 1054. The real father of these universal annals of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries is Marianus Scotus, an Irish monk, who lived in Cologne, and later at Mainz, where he died in 1082 or 1083. He composed a "Chronicon" covering the period from the creation to 1082. This writer was concerned chiefly with the chronology of events, in which he wished to correct his predecessors. On this point he was highly esteemed during the Middle Ages, and is praised by Sigebert of Gembloux for his accuracy. His "Chronicon" had great vogue in England, where many chroniclers of the twelfth century made use of it and wrote continuations. This period also produced the "Chronicon", called in some manuscripts the "Chronographia", of Sigebert of Gembloux (died 1112), a continuation of the chronicles of Eusebius and St. Jerome from 381 to the author's own time. In this work Sigebert, a well-informed man of independent spirit, follows the chronology of his predecessor Marianus Scotus, endeavouring to bring into proper proportion the various parts of his history. A multitude of annals of earlier centuries were used in the preparation of this "Chronicon". Quite as important as the "Chronicon" of Sigebert is the "Chronicon Uspergense" of Ekkehard of Aura (died 1129?), one of the most celebrated German historians of the Middle Ages. Coming down to Robert of Auxerre (died 1212), we find that he marks the transition between the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. His chronicle, reaching from the Creation to 1211, preserves the moderation of the earlier chronicles, eliminating the tales and romances of the troubadours and trouvères, who had created a legendary literature that was gradually gaining in influence. Alberic of Trois-Fontaines (died about 1252) made a brave attempt to resist the current, by disregarding romantic fictions in his "Chronicle" (1241), but he admits without question the fables of Pseudo-Turpin. In this way these great compilations of annals of the thirteenth century lose in value what they gain in volume. At this same time John of Colonna (1298), an Italian Dominican, wrote his "Sea of Histoirie". Vincent of Beauvais (died 1264), also a Dominican, compiled a great encyclopedia of annals, which is known under the title of "Speculum Majus". What gives an encyclopedic character to this lengthy work is the fact that the author combines sacred, profane, and literary history into a continuous narrative. Too extensive to come into common use, this work of Vincent of Beauvais nevertheless had great vogue through the medium of the chronicle of Martinus Polonus (died 1279), who arranged a compendium.
INFLUENCE OF THE MENDICANT ORDERS
With the rise of the mendicant orders , such as the Dominicans, there arose a new literature answering the different needs of these orders. In contrast with the ancient Benedictines, who, being confined within the silence of their cloisters, found no interests outside the monastery, the Dominican monks were less concerned with feudal questions and mingled more in the life of the people. The result is that their annals, while containing more material of general historical interest, show fewer charters and documents, and care less for the local affairs of a province or an estate. However, at this period we notice the spreading intrusion of legend into this field of literature. On the other hand, beginning with Robert of Auxerre, writers indicate their sources, perhaps under the influence of the scholastic method of disputation. The Crusades also mark the point of diversion between annals and national chronicles written in the vernacular. It was for the illiterate people — that is to say, the great mass of the populace who could not understand Latin — that the first chronicles and annals in the vernacular were intended. The earliest of these chronicles were in rhyme, like the ballads of the trouvères and troubadours which they were intended to replace. They contained quotations from the Latin chronicles which were consulted, or of which a translation was attempted. In Normandy and in England the most important of these chroniclers is Robert Wane (1155), Canon of Bayeux under Henry II of England. He wrote the "Roman de Brut", a popular version of the history of the Britons, and the "Roman de Rou", based in part on the Chronicles of William of Jumièges and Ordericus Vitalis. For France mention may be made of Villehardouin (died 1213), who in his "Conqueste de Constantinople" reviewed the history of the Second Crusade ; and Joinville, known for his "Histoire de Saint Louys" completed in 1304. For the Netherlands, we must not omit Jehan Froissart and his "Chronique de France, d'Angleterre, de Flandre et pays circonvoisins", one of the most celebrated works of the fourteenth century. Spain produced the "Cronica general de España", which goes as far as 1252, and of which the original part begins with the thirteenth century. In Italy we find the history of Florence from the pen of John Villani, a Florentine citizen, and a rival of Froissart. England has the "Polychronicon" of Ranulph Higden (1367), translated into English by John of Treviso, with an original continuation reaching to 1387. Lastly, beginning with the fifteenth century we see for the first time official historiographers, among the first of whom was George Chastelain (died 1475). This marks the beginning of the modern epoch in which a fresh orientation brought the historiography of the Middle Ages once more into favour.
AUTHORS OF ANNALS
Medieval annals strictly speaking, that is to say collections in which facts are set down successively from day to day, are for the most part anonymous. There can be no question of discovering the authors of these collections, for often a brief examination of the original manuscript reveals a succession of many hands. Furthermore, it is very often impossible, or at least exceedingly difficult, to determine the original home of these annals. They are very often called after the name of the monastery in which the manuscript was found, e.g. "Annales Bertiniani", "Annales Sci. Amandi", etc. Often the only indication of the source of these Annals is the appearance of notes of local interest peculiar to the annals in question, inserted among common material known to have been taken from other sources. The repetition of notes concerning a definite locality or region may often head to the discovery of the place of origin. Undoubtedly there are exceptions, and the "Annales" of Flodoard and of Lambert of Hersfeld, to cite no others, do not come within this anonymous class. But there are real chronicles, and even memoirs, in which the style, the co-ordination of material, revealing a personality, are corroborated by indications of the author himself. This is notably true of the great majority of chronicles, and it happens more than once that great names like those of Herigerus of Lobbes, Anselm of Liège, Otto of Freising en, Marianus Scotus, and Sigebert of Gembloux lend their authority to these literary productions. In annals and chronicles of a general character there is often to be found a section copied from earlier sources followed by original matter beginning with the very time of Composition. In these annals the part which has been copied can often be traced very far back, and may reveal, in spite of the many disfigurements, the original source of this literary production. This is the case, for example, in the annals of the manuscript of Saint-Germain-des-Prés discovered by Pertz and mentioned above. In chronicles the copied portion corresponds almost always to the period previous to the time when the author began to write and that alone, as a general rule, has any value as a contemporary document. These points apply only to annals properly so called, and to universal chronicles. We have, obviously, historical collections which are valuable in all their parts, but for annals properly so called the case is rare, and for chronicles it is true, in general, only of local chronicles. These, in fact, are often based on documents which may have perished, such as acts of donation, deeds, domestic memoirs, information of a more particular character than universal chronicles, and by far more liable to destruction.
USE OF ANNALS AND CHRONICLES
We have seen that we possess some chronicles which are of great value because they embody within the narrative documents which it is often impossible to find or which have disappeared. These chronicles, then, perform the function of a cartulary. There are annotated cartularies where the various documents are arranged in chronological order for the reign of the abbot or prince during which the events took place. This is notably the case in the "Gesta Abbatum Lithiensum" of Folcuin of Saint-Bertin, a work sometimes called "Chartularium Folcuini" (961). Episcopal chronicles also offer us frequent instances of this class. It is sufficient to mention the "Gesta episcoporum Cameracensium" of the eleventh century. The majority of these local chronicles reproduce the tradition, popular or local, of the monastery which they concern and confine themselves to recording gossip and various kinds of information. They often combine data based on monuments still in existence, without asking themselves whether the version of these sources had been tainted with legends, and they did not take the least trouble to examine the origin and value of their information. We should not be too severe in passing judgment on these works. The authors were bounded by a limited horizon, often equipped with merely a rudimentary training, without the many devices for facilitating labour furnished by science today, such as works of reference and indices, which constitute, so to speak, a condensed form of knowledge. Such chronicles, moreover, were often written with the same purpose as the lives of the saints. Those, having a general tendency to enhance as much as possible the glory of their hero, were nothing more than panegyrics. Monastic chronicles and annals are not free from this tendency, and often begin with an account of the life of the saint who founded the abbey, concerning themselves more with asceticism than with the historical facts and events, which would be of such value to us today. In conclusion, the first part of these chronicles, written for the most part since the eleventh century, almost always recounts legends, often based on oral tradition, but sometimes invented for the purpose of embellishing the early history of the monastery, and of thus increasing the devotion of the faithful. Prudent criticism should be applied to the majority of these productions; the errors with which they are tainted can best be discovered by consulting the charters and diplomas quoted. Chronology especially is often treated carelessly. As far as the annals are concerned, taken in their strictest sense, it is easily understood how such a thing could happen. As, in the beginning, they were nothing but annotations made in the margin of the "Paschal Cycle", the copyists were often deceived as to the juxtaposition of chronological notes and historical events. This material error became later the source of a multitude of chronological mistakes, which, passing from the annals into compilations or universal chronicles, falsified history for a long period. To correct errors of this sort Marianus Scotus wrote his chronicle. Finally, these annals and chronicles, being above all compiled works, were not concerned with eliminating the contradictions that the fusion of legendary and historical facts had caused. Thus Benedict of St. Andrew, of Mount Soracte, in his "Chronicon" accepts and reproduces the legend of Charlemagne's voyage to the Orient, an episode which had been spread abroad by legendary ballads. He inserts this narrative among the historical data taken from the "Vita Karoli" of Einhard, and does not seem to be at all chagrined at the contradiction resulting from this juxtaposition. It is true that there were in the Middle Ages choice minds, like those of Herigerus of Lobbes, Folcuin of Saint-Bertin, Otto of Freising en, Sigebert of Gembloux , etc., whose works prove them to have been lights of criticism, but unfortunately they are the exception. All this class of literature — annals as well as chronicles — must be controlled by official documents and parallel sources of information if they are to serve as material for the history of the distant past.
Join the Movement
When you sign up below, you don't just join an email list - you're joining an entire movement for Free world class Catholic education.
Saints & Angels
Saint of the Day for Monday, Nov 28th, 2022
St. Catherine Laboure
Mysteries of the Rosary
Female / Women Saints
Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary
The Apostles' Creed
- Daily Readings for Tuesday, November 29, 2022
- St. Saturninus: Saint of the Day for Tuesday, November 29, 2022
- Psalm 31 (the Second Penitential Psalm): Prayer of the Day for Tuesday, November 29, 2022
- Daily Readings for Monday, November 28, 2022
- St. Catherine Laboure: Saint of the Day for Monday, November 28, 2022
- The Salve Regina (Hail Holy Queen): Prayer of the Day for Monday, November 28, 2022
Copyright 2022 Catholic Online. All materials contained on this site, whether written, audible or visual are the exclusive property of Catholic Online and are protected under U.S. and International copyright laws, © Copyright 2022 Catholic Online. Any unauthorized use, without prior written consent of Catholic Online is strictly forbidden and prohibited.
Catholic Online is a Project of Your Catholic Voice Foundation, a Not-for-Profit Corporation. Your Catholic Voice Foundation has been granted a recognition of tax exemption under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Federal Tax Identification Number: 81-0596847. Your gift is tax-deductible as allowed by law.