Matthew Paris

Last updated

Matthew Paris
Self-portrait of Matthew Paris from the original manuscript of his Historia Anglorum (London, British Library, MS Royal 14.C.VII, folio 6r
Bornc. 1200
Died1259 (aged c. 59)
Notable work Chronica Majora
Flores Historiarum

Matthew Paris, also known as Matthew of Paris (Latin : Matthæus Parisiensis, lit. 'Matthew the Parisian'; [1] c. 1200 – 1259), was an English Benedictine monk, chronicler, artist in illuminated manuscripts and cartographer, based at St Albans Abbey in Hertfordshire. He wrote a number of works, mostly historical, which he scribed and illuminated himself, typically in drawings partly coloured with watercolour washes, sometimes called "tinted drawings". Some were written in Latin, others in Anglo-Norman or French verse.


His Chronica Majora is an oft-cited source, though modern historians recognise that Paris was not always reliable. He tended to glorify Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II and denigrate the pope. [2] However, in his Historia Anglorum, Paris displays a highly negative view of Frederick, going as far as to describe him as a "tyrant" who "committed disgraceful crimes". [3]

Life and work

Henry I of England from British Library MS Cotton Claudius D VI Henry1.jpg
Henry I of England from British Library MS Cotton Claudius D VI

In spite of his surname and knowledge of the French language, Paris was of English birth, and is believed by some chroniclers to be of the Paris family of Hildersham, Cambridgeshire. [4] He may have studied at Paris in his youth after early education at St Albans School. The first we know of Matthew Paris (from his own writings) is that he was admitted as a monk to St Albans in 1217. It is on the assumption that he was in his teens on admission that his birth date is estimated; some scholars suspect he may have been ten years or older; many monks only entered monastic life after pursuing a career in the world outside. He was clearly at ease with the nobility and even royalty, which may indicate that he came from a family of some status, although it also seems an indication of his personality. His life was mainly spent in this religious house. In 1248, Paris was sent to Norway as the bearer of a message from Louis IX to Haakon IV; he made himself so agreeable to the Norwegian sovereign that he was invited to superintend the reformation of the Benedictine Nidarholm Abbey outside Trondheim.

Coronation of Queen Edith, the wife of King Edward the Confessor (Cambridge University Library, Ee.3.59, fo. 11v) Edward the Confessor Ee.3.59 fol.11v (part2).jpg
Coronation of Queen Edith, the wife of King Edward the Confessor (Cambridge University Library, Ee.3.59, fo. 11v)

Apart from these missions, his known activities were devoted to the composition of history, a pursuit for which the monks of St Albans had long been famous. After admission to the order in 1217, he inherited the mantle of Roger of Wendover, the abbey's official recorder of events, in 1236. Paris revised Roger's work, adding new material to cover his own tenure. This Chronica Majora is an important historical source document, especially for the period between 1235 and 1259. Equally interesting are the illustrations Paris created for his work.

The Dublin MS (see below) contains interesting notes, which shed light on Paris's involvement in other manuscripts, and on the way his own were used. They are in French and in his handwriting:

It is presumed the last relates to Paris acting as commissioning agent and iconographical consultant for the Countess with another artist.

The lending of his manuscripts to aristocratic households, apparently for periods of weeks or months at a time, suggests why he made several different illustrated versions of his Chronicle.

Manuscripts by Matthew Paris

Paris's manuscripts mostly contain more than one text, and often begin with a rather random assortment of prefatory full-page miniatures. Some have survived incomplete, and the various elements now bound together may not have been intended to be so by Paris. Unless stated otherwise, all were given by Paris to his monastery (from some inscriptions it seems they were regarded as his property to dispose of). The monastic libraries were broken up at the Dissolution. These MSS seem to have been appreciated, and were quickly collected by bibliophiles.[ citation needed ] Many of his manuscripts in the British Library are from the Cotton Library.

Elephant from Chronica Majora, Part II, Parker Library, MS 16, fol. 151v Matthew Paris Elephant from Parker MS 16 fol 151v.jpg
Elephant from Chronica Majora, Part II, Parker Library, MS 16, fol. 151v
Elephant of Louis IX of France, a present to Henry III of England. Illustration from the Chronica Majora II, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge Paris.elefant.jpg
Elephant of Louis IX of France, a present to Henry III of England. Illustration from the Chronica Majora II, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge
A continuation of the Chronica, from 1254 until Paris's death in 1259, is bound with the Historia Anglorum in the British Library volume below. An unillustrated copy of the material from 1189 to 1250, with much of his sharper commentary about Henry III toned down or removed, was supervised by Paris himself and now exists as British Library Cotton MS Nero D V, fol. 162–393. [6]

Also, fragments of a Latin biography of Stephen Langton. Various other works, especially maps.

A panel painting on oak of St Peter, the only surviving part of a tabernacle shrine (1850 × 750 mm), in the Museum of Oslo University has been attributed to Paris, presumably dating from his visit in 1248. Local paintings are usually on pine, so he may have brought this with him, or sent it later. [22]

Paris as an artist

Framed tinted drawing of Heraclius taking down the head of Saint Alban, from the Trinity College, Dublin Life DublinTrinityCollegeMSEi40LifeAlbanFol38vHeracliusTakesDownAlbansHead.jpg
Framed tinted drawing of Heraclius taking down the head of Saint Alban, from the Trinity College, Dublin Life

In some of Paris's manuscripts, a framed miniature occupies the upper half of the page, and in others, they are "marginal" – unframed and occupying the bottom quarter (approximately) of the page. Tinted drawings were an established style well before Paris, and became especially popular in the first half of the 13th century. They were certainly much cheaper and quicker than fully painted illuminations. The tradition of tinted drawings or outline drawings with ink supplemented by coloured wash was distinctively English, dating back to the Anglo-Saxon art of the mid-10th century, and connected with the English Benedictine Reform of the period. A strong influence on one branch of the style was the Carolingian Utrecht Psalter, which was at Canterbury from about 1000 to 1640. This was copied in the 1020s in the Harley Psalter, and in the Eadwine Psalter of the mid-12th century.

Unframed marginal drawing of Richard Marshal, 3rd Earl of Pembroke, from the Corpus Christi College Chronica Richard Marshal unhorses Baldwin Guines at a skirmish by Matthew Paris.jpg
Unframed marginal drawing of Richard Marshal, 3rd Earl of Pembroke, from the Corpus Christi College Chronica

Recent scholarship, notably that of Nigel Morgan, suggests that Paris's influence on other artists of the period has been exaggerated. This is likely because so much more is known about him than other English illuminators of the period, who are mostly anonymous. Most manuscripts seem to have been produced by lay artists in this period. William de Brailes is shown with a clerical tonsure, but he was married, which suggests he had minor orders only. The manuscripts produced by Paris show few signs of collaboration, but art historians detect a School of St Albans surviving after Paris's death, influenced by him.

Paris's style suggests that it was formed by works from around 1200. He was somewhat old-fashioned in retaining a roundness in his figures, rather than adopting the thin angularity of most of his artist contemporaries, especially those in London. His compositions are very inventive; his position as a well-connected monk may have given him more confidence in creating new compositions, whereas a lay artist would prefer to stick to traditional formulae. It may also reflect the lack of full training in the art of the period. His colouring emphasises green and blue, and together with his characteristic layout of a picture in the top half of a page, is relatively distinctive. What are probably his final sketches are found in Vitae duorum Offarum in BL MS Cotton Nero D I.

Paris as a historian

From 1235, the point at which Wendover dropped his pen, Paris continued the history on the plan which his predecessors had followed. He derived much of his information from the letters of important people, which he sometimes inserts, but much more from conversations with the eyewitnesses of events. Among his informants were Richard, Earl of Cornwall, and King Henry III, with whom he appears to have been on intimate terms.

The king knew that Paris was writing a history, and wanted it to be as exact as possible. In 1257, in the course of a week's visit to St Albans, Henry kept the chronicler beside him night and day, "and guided my pen," says Paris, "with much goodwill and diligence." It is curious that the Chronica Majora gives so unfavourable an account of the king's policy. Henry Richards Luard supposes that Paris never intended his work to be read in its present form. Many passages of the autograph have written next to them, the note offendiculum, which shows that the writer understood the danger which he ran. On the other hand, unexpurgated copies were made in Paris's lifetime. Although the offending passages are duly omitted or softened in his abridgement of his longer work, the Historia Anglorum (written about 1253), Paris's real feelings must have been an open secret. There is no ground for the old theory[ citation needed ] that he was an official historiographer.

Naturalists have praised his descriptions of the English wildlife of his time, brief though they are: in particular his valuable description of the first irruption into England in 1254 of the common crossbill. [23]

Paris as cartographer

The most developed of Matthew Paris's four maps of Britain (Cotton MS Claudius D VI, fol. 12v). The work is organised around a central north-south itinerary from Dover to Newcastle. The crenellations of both the Antonine Wall and Hadrian's Wall can be seen in the drawing. British Library, London. Britannienkarte des Matthew Paris.jpg
The most developed of Matthew Paris's four maps of Britain (Cotton MS Claudius D VI, fol. 12v). The work is organised around a central north–south itinerary from Dover to Newcastle. The crenellations of both the Antonine Wall and Hadrian's Wall can be seen in the drawing. British Library, London.

Outstanding among his other maps were (four versions of) a pilgrim itinerary charting the route from London to Rome in graphic form. [24] A sequence of pictures of towns on the route marked the terminus of each day's travel, enabling the viewer to envisage and follow the whole journey rather like a comic strip – an achievement unprecedented elsewhere in the medieval world. [25]

Studies of Matthew Paris

The relation of Matthew Paris's work to those of John de Celia (John of Wallingford) and Roger of Wendover may be studied in Henry Luard's edition of the Chronica Majora (7 vols., Rolls series, 1872–1881), which contains valuable prefaces. The Historia Anglorum sive historia minor (1067–1253) has been edited by Frederic Madden (3 vols., Rolls series, 1866–1869).

Matthew Paris is sometimes confused with Matthew of Westminster, the reputed author of the Flores historiarum edited by Luard (3 vols., Rolls series, 1890). This work, compiled by various hands, is an edition of Matthew Paris, with continuations extending to 1326.

He wrote a life of St Edmund of Abingdon, sometime Archbishop of Canterbury. [26]

He also wrote the Anglo-Norman La Estoire de Seint Aedward le Rei (the History of Saint Edward the King), which survives in a beautifully illuminated manuscript version, Cambridge, Cambridge University Library MS. Ee.3.59. The manuscript has had a varied publication history. [27] Sections were printed in Francisque Michel's Chroniques Anglo-Normandes. Luard's edition for the Rolls series [28] was severely criticised; [29] it was re-edited for the Anglo-Norman Text Society by K. Y. Wallace. [30] A facsimile for the Roxburghe Club was edited by M. R. James, [31] and the whole manuscript has been digitalized and can be seen online. [32]

Paris House at St Albans High School for Girls is named after him.


  1. John Allen Giles (translator), Matthew Paris' English history, from 1235 to 1273, Publ. 1852. (page v)
  2. Peter Jackson, Mongols and the West, p. 58
  3. Matthew Paris, 'Matthew Paris on Staufer Italy'. In Jessalyn Bird, Edward Peters, and James M. Powell, Crusade and Christendom: Annotated Documents in Translation from Innocent III to the Fall of Acre, 1187–1291, p.405
  4. Edmund Carter (1819). The history of the county of Cambridge. S. &. R. Bentley.
  5. "Welcome". Corpus Christi College. Archived from the original on 20 July 2008. Retrieved 7 April 2022.
  6. "Matthew Paris, Chronica maiora (2r-393r), incorporating St Godric's hymn to the Blessed Virgin Mary (150v: Boffey 2988)..." British Library. Retrieved 7 April 2022.
  7. Nigel Morgan in: Jonathan Alexander & Paul Binski (eds), Age of Chivalry, Art in Plantagenet England, 1200–1400, Royal Academy/Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London 1987, Cat 437
  8. British Library Digitised Manuscript information: Royal MS 14 C VII
  9. "Matthew Paris on death bead". British Library. Archived from the original on 29 April 2005. Retrieved 7 April 2022.
  10. "Matthew Paris' map of Great Britain". British Library. Archived from the original on 15 September 2008. Retrieved 7 April 2022.
  11. British Library Archives and Manuscripts catalogue: Cotton MS Claudius D VI, fols. 5–100
  12. British Library Archives and Manuscripts catalogue: Cotton MS Vitellius A XX, ff 67–242.
  13. "Itinerary From London To Chambery, In Matthew Paris' 'Book Of Additions'". Archived from the original on 13 January 2008. Retrieved 7 March 2007.
  14. "Matthew Paris' "Lives of the Offas", Christ of Revelations". Archived from the original on 27 September 2007. Retrieved 7 March 2007.
  15. Paris, Matthew. "Life of St Edward the Confessor". Cambridge Digital Library. Retrieved 24 April 2012.
  16. Vaughn (1958), Matthew Paris, p. 171
  17. British Library Archives and Manuscripts catalogue: Cotton MS Julius D VI, ff 123r–156v.
  18. British Library Archives and Manuscripts catalogue: Add MS 70513, ff 85v-100.
  19. Iafrate, Allegra (2016). Matthieu Paris, Le Moine et le Hasard: Bodleian Library, MS Ashmole 304. Paris: Garnier. ISBN   978-2-8124-4945-1.
  20. British Library Archives and Manuscripts catalogue: Cotton MS Julius D VII, ff 34r–115r.
  21. "John of Wallingford". British Library. Archived from the original on 11 March 2007. Retrieved 7 April 2022.
  22. Nigel Morgan in: Jonathan Alexander & Paul Binski (eds), Age of Chivalry, Art in Plantagenet England, 1200–1400, Royal Academy/Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London 1987, Cat 311
  23. Perry, Richard. Wildlife in Britain and Ireland. London: Croom Helm Ltd, 1978, p. 134.
  24. D J Hopkins, City/Stage/Globe (Oxon 2008) p. 72 and p. 198
  25. D J Hopkins, City/Stage/Globe (Oxon 2008) pp. 75–6
  26. Lawrence, C. H. (1996). The life of St. Edmund by Matthew Paris . Oxford: Alan Sutton. ISBN   978-0-7509-1129-0.
  27. Plumtree, James (2014). "A Medieval Manuscript in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction: Regarding Cambridge MS. Ee. 3. 59". In Collé-Bak, Nathalie; Latham, Monica; Ten Eyck, David (eds.). From Text(s) to Book(s): Studies in the Production and Editorial Processes. Nancy: Editions Universitaires de Lorraine. pp. 169–179.
  28. Luard, Henry Richards, ed. (1858). Lives of Edward the Confessor. London: Longman, Brown, Greens, Longmans and Roberts.
  29. Atkinson, Robert (1874). "Strictures on Mr. Luard's Edition of a French Poem on the Life of Edward the Confessor". Hermathena. 1 (1): 1–81. JSTOR   23036310.
  30. Wallace, Kathryn Young, ed. (1983). La Estoire de Seint Aedward le Rei . London: Anglo-Norman Text Society. ISBN   9780905474090.
  31. James, M. R., ed. (1920). La Estoire de Seint Aedward le Rei. Oxford: Frederick Hall.
  32. "Life of St. Edward the Confessor by Matthew Paris". Cambridge Digital Library.
  1. Commons-logo.svg Media related to Chronica Majora part 1 (Matthew Paris) - Parker MS 26 at Wikimedia Commons
  2. Commons-logo.svg Media related to Chronica Majora part 2 (Matthew Paris) - Parker MS 16 at Wikimedia Commons
  3. Commons-logo.svg Media related to Flores Historiarum at Wikimedia Commons
  4. Commons-logo.svg Media related to Historia Anglorum (1250–1259) - BL Royal MS 14 C VII at Wikimedia Commons
  5. Commons-logo.svg Media related to Matthew Paris, Abbreuiatio chronicorum, AD 1000–1255 (13th C) - BL Cotton MS Claudius D VI at Wikimedia Commons
  6. Commons-logo.svg Media related to Matthew Paris, Liber Additamentorum (13th-14th C) - BL Cotton MS Nero D I at Wikimedia Commons
  7. Commons-logo.svg Media related to Dublin, Trinity College, MS E. I. 40, Life of St._Alban at Wikimedia Commons
  8. Commons-logo.svg Media related to The Life of King Edward the Confessor at Wikimedia Commons
  9. Commons-logo.svg Media related to The Becket Leaves (c. 1220 – 1240) - BL Loan MS 88 at Wikimedia Commons
  10. Commons-logo.svg Media related to Liber Experimentarius - Bod. MS Ashmole 304 at Wikimedia Commons


Related Research Articles

Thomas Walsingham was an English chronicler, and is the source of much of the knowledge of the reigns of Richard II, Henry IV and Henry V, and the careers of John Wycliff and Wat Tyler.

Roger of Wendover, probably a native of Wendover in Buckinghamshire, was an English chronicler of the 13th century.

Matthew of Westminster, long regarded as the author of the Flores Historiarum, is now thought never to have existed.

<i>Flores Historiarum</i>

The Flores Historiarum is the name of two different Latin chronicles by medieval English historians that were created in the 13th century, associated originally with the Abbey of St Albans.

Sir John Maunsell, Provost of Beverley Minster, was a king's clerk and a judge. He served as chancellor to King Henry III and was England's first secretary of state.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Nicholas de Moels</span>

Nicholas de Moels or Nicholas Molis of North Cadbury in Somerset, was an Anglo‑Norman royal administrator and household knight of King Henry III. In this capacity he was assigned many and varied offices and duties, often of a temporary nature. He married a wealthy heiress which transformed him into a major landholder and feudal baron. In 1244 whilst serving as Seneschal of Gascony, he inflicted a defeat on the King of Navarre whom he took prisoner in the field.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Rolls Series</span> Published collection of British and Irish historical materials

The Chronicles and Memorials of Great Britain and Ireland during the Middle Ages, widely known as the Rolls Series, is a major collection of British and Irish historical materials and primary sources published as 99 works in 253 volumes between 1858 and 1911. Almost all the great medieval English chronicles were included: most existing editions, published by scholars of the 17th and 18th centuries, were considered to be unsatisfactory. The scope was also extended to include legendary, folklore and hagiographical materials, and archival records and legal tracts. The series was government-funded, and takes its unofficial name from the fact that its volumes were published "by the authority of Her Majesty's Treasury, under the direction of the Master of the Rolls", who was the official custodian of the records of the Court of Chancery and other courts, and nominal head of the Public Record Office.

<i>Chronicles of Mann</i>

The Chronicles of the Kings of Mann and the Isles or Manx Chronicle is a medieval Latin manuscript relating the early history of the Isle of Man.

<i>Chronica Majora</i> Literary work by Matthew Paris

The Chronica Majora is the seminal work of Matthew Paris, a member of the English Benedictine community of St Albans and long-celebrated historian. The work begins with Creation and contains annals down to the year of Paris' death of 1259. The Chronica has long been considered a contemporary attempt to present a universal history of the world.

<i>Vitae duorum Offarum</i>

The Vitae duorum Offarum "The lives of the two Offas" is a literary history written in the mid-thirteenth century, apparently by the St Albans monk Matthew Paris; however, the most recent editor and translator of the work rejects this attribution and argues for an earlier date, in the late twelfth century. The earliest editor, William Wats, argues that the texts are older than Matthew's day but were revised by him; he bases this view on stylistic elements, such as the inclusion in the first Vita of a quotation from Lucan which also appears repeatedly in Matthew's Chronica maiora.

Handbook for a Confessor is a compilation of Old English and Latin penitential texts associated with – and possibly authored or adapted by – Wulfstan (II), Archbishop of York. The handbook was intended for the use of parish priests in hearing confession and determining penances. Its transmission in the manuscripts seems to bear witness to Wulfstan's profound concern with these sacraments and their regulation, an impression which is similarly borne out by his Canons of Edgar, a guide of ecclesiastical law also targeted at priests. The handbook is a derivative work, based largely on earlier vernacular representatives of the penitential genre such as the Scrifboc and the Old English Penitential. Nevertheless, a unique quality seems to lie in the more or less systematic way it seeks to integrate various points of concern, including the proper formulae for confession and instructions on the administration of confession, the prescription of penances and their commutation.

The Gesta Pontificum Anglorum, originally known as De Gestis Pontificum Anglorum and sometimes anglicized as The History or The Chronicle of the English Bishops, is an ecclesiastical history of England written by William of Malmesbury in the early 12th century. It covers the period from the arrival of St Augustine in AD 597 until the time it was written. Work on it was begun before Matilda's death in 1118 and the first version of the work was completed in about 1125. William drew upon extensive research, first-hand experience and a number of sources to produce the work. It is unusual for a medieval work of history, even compared to William's other works, in that its contents are so logically structured. The History of the English Bishops is one of the most important sources regarding the ecclesiastical history of England for the period after the death of Bede.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">House of Braose</span>

The House of Braose was a prominent family of Anglo-Norman nobles originating in Briouze, near Argentan, Orne, Normandy. Members of this family played a significant part in the Norman conquest of England and subsequent power struggles in England, Wales and Ireland in the 11th to 14th centuries.

John of Eversden or Everisden,, was an English chronicler.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">John of Wallingford (d. 1258)</span> Benedictine monk

John of Wallingford was a Benedictine monk at the Abbey of St Albans, who served as the abbey's infirmarer at some time between c.1246-7 and his death in 1258. He is now mostly known through a manuscript containing a miscellaneous collection of material, mostly written up by Wallingford from various works by his contemporary at the abbey Matthew Paris, which survives as British Library Cotton MS Julius D VII. This manuscript includes the so-called Chronica Joannis Wallingford or Chronicle of John of Wallingford.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Royal manuscripts, British Library</span>

The Royal manuscripts are one of the "closed collections" of the British Library, consisting of some 2,000 manuscripts collected by the sovereigns of England in the "Old Royal Library" and given to the British Museum by George II in 1757. They are still catalogued with call numbers using the prefix "Royal" in the style "Royal MS 2. B. V". As a collection, the Royal manuscripts date back to Edward IV, though many earlier manuscripts were added to the collection before it was donated. Though the collection was therefore formed entirely after the invention of printing, luxury illuminated manuscripts continued to be commissioned by royalty in England as elsewhere until well into the 16th century. The collection was expanded under Henry VIII by confiscations in the Dissolution of the Monasteries and after the falls of Henry's ministers Cardinal Wolsey and Thomas Cromwell. Many older manuscripts were presented to monarchs as gifts; perhaps the most important manuscript in the collection, the Codex Alexandrinus, was presented to Charles I in recognition of the diplomatic efforts of his father James I to help the Eastern Orthodox churches under the rule of the Ottoman Empire. The date and means of entry into the collection can only be guessed at in many if not most cases. Now the collection is closed in the sense that no new items have been added to it since it was donated to the nation.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Westminster Psalter</span>

The Westminster Psalter, British Library, MS Royal 2 A XXII, is an English illuminated psalter of about 1200, with some extra sheets with tinted drawings added around 1250. It is the oldest surviving psalter used at Westminster Abbey, and is presumed to have left Westminster after the Dissolution of the Monasteries. It joined the Old Royal Library as part of the collection of John Theyer, bought by Charles II of England in 1678. Both campaigns of decoration, both the illuminations of the original and the interpolated full-page drawings, are important examples of English manuscript painting from their respective periods.

<i>Tractatus de ortu Tartarorum</i>

The Tractatus de ortu Tartarorum is a Latin treatise consisting of answers given by a Russian bishop named Peter to questions about the Mongols (Tartars) posed by Pope Innocent IV and the College of Cardinals in late 1244. The Tractatus originally circulated among the clergy assembled for the First Council of Lyon in 1245. It had a profound effect on the pope, convincing him to send embassies to the Mongols to negotiate peace.

Henry (de) Blaneforde or Blankfrount was an English chronicler and a Benedictine monk of St. Albans. He wrote a short continuation of the chronicle of Trokelowe for the years 1323 to 1324.