Ralph de Diceto

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Opening page from the St Alban's Abbey copy of Ralph's Abbreviationes chronicorum and Ymagines historiarum, featuring a table of the innovative marginal signs he introduced to help index his work Opening page, with table of signs - Diceto's historical works (c.1204) - BL Royal MS 13 E VI.jpg
Opening page from the St Alban's Abbey copy of Ralph's Abbreviationes chronicorum and Ymagines historiarum, featuring a table of the innovative marginal signs he introduced to help index his work

Ralph de Diceto (c. 1120 c. 1202) was archdeacon of Middlesex, dean of St Paul's Cathedral (from c. 1180), and author of two chronicles, the Abbreviationes chronicorum and the Ymagines historiarum.

The Archdeacon of Middlesex is a senior ecclesiastical officer in the Church of England. S/he is responsible for the Archdeaconry of Middlesex, which makes up the Kensington episcopal area of the Diocese of London – that episcopal area is overseen by the Area Bishop of Kensington, Graham Tomlin.

Dean of St Pauls

The Dean of St Paul's is a member of, and chairman of the Chapter of St Paul's Cathedral in London in the Church of England. The Dean of St Paul's is also Dean of the Order of the British Empire.


Early career

Ralph is first mentioned in 1152, when he received the archdeaconry of Middlesex. He was probably born between 1120 and 1130; of his parentage and nationality we know nothing. The common statement that he derived his surname from Diss in Norfolk is a mere conjecture. Dicetum may equally well be a Latinized form of Dissai, Dicy, or Dizy, place names in Maine, Picardy, Burgundy, and Champagne. [1]

Middlesex historic county of England

Middlesex is a historic county in southeast England. Its area is now almost entirely within the wider urbanised area of London. Its area is now also mostly within the ceremonial county of Greater London, with small sections in other neighbouring ceremonial counties. It was established in the Anglo-Saxon system from the territory of the Middle Saxons, and existed as an official administrative unit until 1965. The county is bounded to the south by the River Thames, and includes the rivers Colne and Lea and a ridge of hills as the other boundaries. The largely low-lying county, dominated by clay in its north and alluvium on gravel in its south, was the second smallest by area in 1831.

Diss town in Norfolk, England

Diss is an English market town and electoral ward in the East Anglian county of Norfolk, near the border with Suffolk. It had a population of 7,572 in 2011. Diss railway station is on the Great Eastern Main Line from London to Norwich. The town lies in the valley of the River Waveney, round a mere covering 6 acres (2.4 ha) and up to 18 feet (5.5 m) deep, although there is another 51 feet (16 m) of mud.

Dicy Part of Charny-Orée-de-Puisaye in Bourgogne-Franche-Comté, France

Dicy is a former commune in the Yonne department in Bourgogne-Franche-Comté in north-central France. On 1 January 2016, it was merged into the new commune of Charny-Orée-de-Puisaye.

In 1152 Ralph was already a master of arts and, presumably, he had studied at Paris. His reputation for learning and integrity stood high. He was regarded with respect and favor by Arnulf of Lisieux and Gilbert Foliot, two of the most eminent bishops of their time. Quite naturally, the archdeacon took in the Becket controversy the same side as his friends. [1]

Arnulf of Lisieux was a medieval French bishop who figured prominently as a conservative figure during the Renaissance of the 12th century, built the Cathedral of Lisieux, which introduced Gothic architecture to Normandy, and implemented the reforms of Bernard of Clairvaux.

Gilbert Foliot 12th-century English monk and bishop

Gilbert Foliot was a medieval English monk and prelate, successively Abbot of Gloucester, Bishop of Hereford and Bishop of London. Born to an ecclesiastical family, he became a monk at Cluny Abbey in France at about the age of twenty. After holding two posts as prior in the Cluniac order he was appointed Abbot of Gloucester Abbey in 1139, a promotion influenced by his kinsman Miles of Gloucester. During his tenure as abbot he acquired additional land for the abbey, and may have helped to fabricate some charters—legal deeds attesting property ownership—to gain advantage in a dispute with the Archbishops of York. Although Foliot recognised Stephen as the King of England, he may have also sympathised with the Empress Matilda's claim to the throne. He joined Matilda's supporters after her forces captured Stephen, and continued to write letters in support of Matilda even after Stephen's release.

Becket controversy 12th-century dispute between Thomas Becket and King Henry II of England

The Becket controversy or Becket dispute was the quarrel between Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Becket and King Henry II of England from 1163 to 1170. The controversy culminated with Becket's murder in 1170, and was followed by Becket's canonization in 1173 and Henry's public penance at Canterbury in July 1174.

By 1164 Ralph had acquired the livings of Aynho, Northamptonshire, and Finchingfield, Essex, and served them both by vicars. [2]

Although Ralph's narrative is colourless and although he was one of those who showed some sympathy for Becket at the council of Northampton in 1164, his correspondence shows that he regarded the archbishop's conduct as ill-considered and that he gave advice to those whom Becket regarded as his chief enemies. [1]

Ralph was selected in 1166 as the envoy of the English bishops when they protested against the excommunications launched by Becket. But, apart from this episode, which he characteristically neglects to record, he remained in the background. The natural impartiality of his intellect was accentuated by a certain timidity, which is apparent in his writings no less than in his life. [1]

Dean of St Paul's

About 1180 Ralph became dean of St Paul's. In this office, he distinguished himself by careful management of the estates, by restoring the discipline of the chapter, and by building at his own expense a deanery house. A scholar and a man of considerable erudition, he showed a strong preference for historical studies; and about the time when he was preferred to the deanery he began to collect materials for the history of his own times. [1]

Ralph's friendships with Richard Fitz Nigel, who succeeded Foliot in the see of London, with William Longchamp, the chancellor of Richard I, and with Walter de Coutances, the Archbishop of Rouen, gave him excellent opportunities of collecting information. [1]


Ralph's two chief works, the Abbreviationes chronicorum and the Ymagines historiarum, cover the history of the world from the birth of Christ to the year 1202. The former, which ends in 1147, is a work of learning and industry, but is almost entirely based upon extant sources. The latter, beginning as a compilation from Robert de Monte and the letters of Foliot, becomes an original authority c. 1172 and a contemporary record c. 1181. In precision and fullness of detail the Ymagines are inferior to the chronicles of Roger of Hoveden. [3]

Though an annalist, Ralph is careless in his chronology. The documents which he incorporates, while often important, are selected on no principle. He has little sense of style but displays considerable insight when he ventures to discuss a political situation. For this reason, and on account of the details with which they supplement the more important chronicles of the period, the Ymagines are a valuable though a secondary source. [1]

Editions of Diceto's writings

Online copy of Volume 1 on Google Books
Online copy of Volume 2 (1876) at Internet Archive.
Online copy of The Domesday of St Pauls at Internet Archive.

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  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Wikisource-logo.svg One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain : Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Diceto, Ralph de". Encyclopædia Britannica . 8 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 177–178.
  2. Biography of Ralph de Diceto (August, 2016)
  3. Roger's two Gesta were formerly attributed to Benedictus Abbas.

Further reading