Thomas Walsingham (died c. 1422) was an English chronicler, and is the source of much of the knowledge of the reigns of Richard II, Henry IV, Henry V and the latter reign of Edward III depicting the decline of the state of affairs of the English.He also documented the careers of John Wycliff and Wat Tyler.
Walsingham was a Benedictine monk who spent most of his life at St Albans Abbey, Hertfordshire where he was superintendent of the copying room (scriptorium). His works include the Chronicon Angliæ, controversially attacking John of Gaunt, and theYpodigma Neustriæ (Chronicle of Normandy), justifying Henry V's invasion, and dedicated it to him in 1419.
He has no relation to the 16th century Francis Walsingham, spymaster to Queen Elizabeth I.
He became a monk at St Albans, where he appears to have passed the whole of his monastic life, excepting a period from 1394 to 1396 during which he was prior of Wymondham Abbey, Norfolk, England, another Benedictine house. At St Albans he was in charge of the scriptorium, or writing room, and he died in about 1422.
Walsingham is stated by John Baleand John Pitts to have been a native of Norfolk. This is probably an inference from his name, as Walsingham is a village in that county. From an early period he was connected with the abbey at St Albans, Hertfordshire, and he was doubtless at school there. An inconclusive passage in his Historia Anglicana has been taken as evidence that he was educated at Oxford, and the abbey of St Albans maintained particularly close relations with Oxford, sending its novices to be trained at St Alban Hall and its monks at Gloucester College, lending further weight to the idea that Walsingham probably attended the university.
Subsequently, as the register book of benefactors of St Albans Abbey preserved in Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, shows, he held in the abbey not only the office of precentor, implying some musical education, but the more important one of scriptorarius, or superintendent of the copying-room. According to the register it was under Thomas de la Mare, who was abbot from 1349 to 1396, that he held these offices. Before 1388, he compiled a work (Chronica Majora), which was well known at that date as a book of reference. In 1394, he was of standing sufficient to be promoted to the dignity of prior of Wymondham.
He ceased to be prior of Wymondham in 1396, and was recalled to St Albans, where he composed his Ypodigma Neustriæ, or Demonstration of Events in Normandy, dedicated to Henry V, about 1419. His Historia Anglicana, indeed, is carried down to 1422, though it remains a matter of controversy whether the latter portion is from his pen. Nothing further is known of his life. Pitts speaks of Walsingham's office of ‘scriptorarius’ at St Albans Abbey as that of historiographer royal (regius historicus), and as bestowed on Walsingham by the abbot at the instance of the king. This king, according to Bale and Pitts, was Henry VI, for both of them assert that Walsingham flourished A.D. 1440. The title of historiographer royal has probably no more basis than Bale's similar story of William Rishanger. Bale makes his case worse by adding that Walsingham was the author of a work styled Acta Henrici Sexti. This is now unknown. If the ‘Chronica Majora’ was written, as must be supposed, at the latest not long after 1380, Walsingham must have been of exceptional age for that period in 1440. It is quite inconceivable that he can have been writing histories after 1461, the virtual close of Henry VI's reign. The Acta regis Henrici Sexti is therefore probably apocryphal, and Bale and Pitts have post-dated Walsingham.
Recent research conjecturally assigns to Walsingham the following six chronicles:
Pitts remarks in his life of Walsingham that we owe to him the knowledge of many historical incidents not recorded by other writers. He is the principal authority for the reigns of Richard II, Henry IV and Henry V. Our acquaintance with John Wycliff's career is largely due to his information, though he was greatly prejudiced against Lollardy. He is also the chief authority for the insurrection of Wat Tyler in 1381. The Peasants' Revolt of that year was formidable at St Albans, the abbey being besieged, many of its court rolls and other muniments burnt, and charters of manumission extorted. Walsingham's admiration for Henry V, as the opposer of Lollardy, led him to follow with minute detail the progress of that king's campaigns in France.
Walsingham was a painstaking collector of facts rather than an historian, though he sometimes manipulated his facts with ulterior objects, as is illustrated by the contradictory accounts he gave of the characters of Richard II and John of Gaunt. Tanner mentions a manuscript in the library of St John's College, Oxford, as attributed to Thomas Walsingham. It is intituled De Generatione et Natura Deorum, a title which suggests remoteness from Thomas Walsingham's literary pursuits.
Walsingham was no relation of Sir Francis Walsingham, spymaster to Queen Elizabeth I.
Richard II, also known as Richard of Bordeaux, was King of England from 1377 until he was deposed in 1399. He was the son of Edward the Black Prince, Prince of Wales, and Joan, Countess of Kent. Richard's father died in 1376, leaving Richard as heir apparent to his grandfather, King Edward III; upon the latter's death, the 10-year-old Richard succeeded to the throne.
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A modern edition of Walsingham's Chronica Maiora in: David Preest, The Chronica Maiora of Thomas Walsingham 1376-1422, with Introduction and Notes by James G. Clark (Woodbridge: Boydell, 2005).
This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain : Leadam, Isaac Saunders (1899). "Walsingham, Thomas". In Lee, Sidney (ed.). Dictionary of National Biography . Vol. 59. London: Smith, Elder & Co.