Chronicle of Melrose Abbey

Chronicle of Melrose Abbey

Melrose Abbey (Melrose, Scotland) — 1170–1270

A marvelous medieval chronicle created over the course of generations by the monks of Melorse Abbey in the Scottish borderlands

  1. The chronicle, recorded by a series of anonymous monks, covers the years 731 to 1270

  2. Although mostly concerned with local events, it is also an important source of British history

  3. Witness the evolution of medieval script as one generation after another continues the work

Chronicle of Melrose Abbey

  1. Description
  2. Facsimile Editions (1)
Description
Chronicle of Melrose Abbey

Among the artful and historic manuscripts found in the British Library, the Chronicle of Melrose is one of the most useful sources on Scottish history and the history of Melrose Abbey in particular, which was founded during the reign of King Duncan I. Divided into two parts, the manuscript was likely written by the monks of Melrose Abbey and covers the period of 731 to 1270. Students of medieval script will be fascinated to see the evolution of the dozens of hands that contributed to the work generation after generation. The historic work was later acquired by the famous British bibliophile Robert Cotton before making its way into the public collections of the British Library.

Chronicle of Melrose Abbey

The Chronicle of Melrose was written by unknown scribes who were most likely monks at Melrose Abbey in southern Scotland between the years 731 and 1270 and is divided into two segments, the first ending in 1140 and the second covering 1140-1270. It covers not only the history of the abbey itself but also reports on historical events in general. The main section of the chronicle, stored in the British Museum under the shelf mark Cotton MS Faustina B IX, inexplicably stops mid-sentence in the year 1270. The latter section of the manuscript is considered to be a more credible source by modern historians than the former. What is more, the manuscript contains the oldest independent account of the sealing of the Magna Carta.

A Medieval Chronicle

The dating of the manuscripts is based on the old Roman system of counting the days in a month based upon the Calends and the Ides, the first and fifteenth days of the month respectively. Although lacking illustration, the Chronicle is a wonderful witness to the evolution of medieval script from local Anglican styles to the formal and widely processed Gothic textura. Marginal notes written in hands that are sometimes separated by as much as 500 years adorn the primary text. Nonetheless, some decorative initials created with red and blue ink have been added by some of the more artistic scribes. The rest of the rubrication is functional rather than decorative in nature.

Melrose Abbey and History

Melrose Abbey was founded in 1136 by Cistercian monks from Rievaulx Abbey in neighboring Yorkshire at the behest of King David I of Scotland (1084-1153). The Chronicle of Melrose was originally compiled there – mainly from English sources and concluding with the murder of Thomas Becket at the end of the year 1170. Subsequently, it was intermittently updated and modified until ca. 1290 – more than 40 of Melrose's scribes made additional contributions to the compilation in the process. In the 1240s or 50s, one of those scribes copied a source known as the Verse Chronicle – a list of Scottish kings accompanied by chronicle notes, starting with Kenneth MacAlpin, rendered in Latin elegiac couplets – into margins and spaces at appropriate places in the existing chronicle. In terms of manuscript date, it is the earliest surviving list of Scottish kings.

Journey of the Manuscript

It is believed that the manuscript remained at Melrose Abbey until the 14th century, when it was brought to Deeping Priory in Lincolnshire. The manuscript later made its way to London, likely in the course the Reformation when the abbeys were being dissolved. Robert Cotton (1570/70-1631) acquired the fragments of the work in 1621, which were later bound together in 1702 and made available to the public in one of the institutions that eventually coalesced into the British Library.

Codicology

Alternative Titles
Die Chronik von Melrose Abbey
Size / Format
73 folios / 26.5 × 19.0 cm
Date
1170–1270
Language
Script
Anglicana Gothic Textura
Illustrations
Numerous decorative Gothic initials of different sizes and colors
Content
Chronicle of the Cistercian Abbey of Melrose for the years 731 to 1270
Previous Owners
John Leland
Robert Cotton
John Cotton

Available facsimile editions:
The Chronicle of Melrose
Lund Humphries – London, 1936
Facsimile Editions

#1 The Chronicle of Melrose

Lund Humphries – London, 1936

Publisher: Lund Humphries – London, 1936
Commentary: 1 volume by Alan Anderson Orr, Marjorie O. Anderson, and William Dickinson Croft
Language: English
1 volume: Exact reproduction of the original document (extent, color and size) Reproduction of the entire original document as detailed as possible (scope, format, colors). The binding may not correspond to the original or current document binding.
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