Ralph Higden, Polychronicon, in Latin, decorated manuscript on paper
[England, 15th century]
291 x 210mm. ii vellum + 376 paper + i vellum leaves: 114, 213 (of 14, final blank cancelled), 318, 430, 526, 616, 722, 826, 928, 1038, 1144, 1246, 135(of 6, v a blank cancelled), COMPLETE, catchwords at inner lower margin of final versos, each gathering with central and outer vellum guards, single column of between 30 and 42 lines, in two neat secretary bookhands in black ink, except index and bk 1 chs 38-39 written in two or three columns, rubrics and paragraph marks in red, running headings in black, two-line initials of blue with red penwork flourishing throughout, original sidenotes and chapter numbers often underlined in red, Pythagorean diagram in red and black tipped onto f.88v, marginal annotations in hands of different dates added predominantly in book 7, bifolium recording principal events of 1297-1351 sewn onto second endleaf, paper fragment with statement of accounts pasted onto f.12, TWO PAPER FRAGMENTS FROM CAXTON'S FIRST EDITION OF GOWER'S CONFESSIO AMANTIS pasted onto f.13 (occasional inconsequential stains or marks). Contemporary leather over bevelled wooden boards with two straps and nielloed metal clasps and catches (small losses at joints, leather carefully repaired at extremities of upper cover and in centre of lower cover apparently incorporating original chemise, straps and clasps 19th-century).
Various notes and pen-trials include a pledge-note naming 'henrico mathew' written in a 15th-century hand on f.376v, a note recording the death of 'mine uncle' Oliver Godfraye on 2 September 1550 on the second endleaf; Sebastian Evans (1830-1909) his bookplate inside upper cover and his initialled notes under the accounts fragment that he had pasted on f.12 and the Caxton fragments he had pasted on f.13. The Caxton fragments constitute almost one full leaf (d4) of the first edition of Gower's Confessio Amantis (Westminster: William Caxton, 143, Goff G-329). He had found both of these and the bifolium from a 14th-century chronicle within the manuscript. Evans, a journalist, artist, poet, translator, medievalist and close friend of Edward Burne-Jones included bookbinding among the arts and crafts he practised and he was most probably responsible for the restoration of the binding and the addition of the 'gothick' niello clasps. He made the manuscript available to J. Rawson Lumby who used it and discussed it -- 'very correctly written' -- in Polychronicon Ranulphi Higden monachi Cestrensis, vol. vi, 1876, pp.lvii-lviii, ed. Churchill Babbington in 9 vols for the Rolls Series 41 (1865-86); John Burns (1858-1943), labour leader and Liberal Minister, his signature and the date September 24 1921 on the verso of the second endleaf, the record of a purchase at Sotheby's 19 July 1928 for 410 on a paper slip pasted beneath, his sale 24 April 1944, lot 424; bookplate of Harold Douthit.
Index from 'Abel de morte euis' to 'Zenon imperator de zorobabel' followed by paragraphs on the five ages ff.1-11; blanks but for pasted-on fragments and Evans's notes ff.12-13; Ralph Higden, Polychronicon, in vii books, the last including the continuation to 1376 ff.14-374v; f.65 and final 2 leaves blank.
This is the so-called 'intermediate' version of Higden's Polychronicon, (Rolls Series AB) although with some variation from the published edition - that include changes that disrupt the acrostic signature in flourished initials in Book 1, which in the present manuscript reads, PRESENTEM CRPNICAM COPLELAVDT FRATER RANULPPHUS CESTRENSIS MONACHUS. It is followed by the continuation to 1376 that ends with the first notice of Wycliffe and the words 'sermonibus predicantes', which appears to be an early revision of the first continuation: J. Taylor, The 'Universal Chronicle' of Ranulph Higden, 1966. In the introduction to volume VI of the Rolls Series edition Lumby, while commending the care and accuracy with which this manuscript was copied, drew attention to the individuality of various passages.
Higden was a Benedictine monk of St Werburghe Chester, who died c.1363. He is principally known for his universal chronicle, the Polychronicon, 'which gave to the educated and learned audience of 14th-century England something which they had never previously known, a clear and convincing picture of world history'. Higden carried on working on the chronicle until his death; his autograph manuscript with alterations and updatings survives at the Huntington Library (HM132, C.W. Dutschke, Guide to Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts in the Huntington Library, 1989, pp.175-177). He most likely completed the intermediate version some time during the 1340s and it soon gained widespread popularity which continued for at least two centuries -- no work fully replacing it until Sir Walter Raleigh wrote his History of the World in the 17th century. Taylor summarised its impact and importance by declaring, 'The Polychronicon formed part of the medieval legacy to Renaissance times'.