The Continuation of the Eulogium Historiarium, 1364-1413
Edited and translated by Chris Given-Wilson
Oxford University Press, Cary, North Carolina, 2019, 240 pages
Book Review published on: October 23, 2020
Around the year 1350, an anonymous monk from the Malmesbury Abbey in Wiltshire, England, began compiling a history of the world. The monk’s work, Eulogium Historiarium, consists of five books covering some 6,500 years up to the year 1362. Additional entries by the monk or his fellow monks took his work to 1366. An anonymous fifteenth-century chronicler expanded Eulogium Historiarium from 1364 to 1413 into a work titled Continuatio Eulogii, or Continuation of the Eulogium Historiarum. Continuatio Eulogii is one of the major contemporary narratives covering the reigns of Richard II and Henry IV. Chris Given-Wilson is a professor of late medieval history at the University of St. Andrews; author of The English Nobility in the Late Middle Ages, Chronicles of Revolution, 1397-1400; and editor of The Chronicle of Adam Usk. Given-Wilson translates Continuatio Eulogii: The Continuation of the Eulogium Historiarium, 1364-1413 from Latin into English and examines how medieval writers interpreted events that occurred in their world.
Two major points stand out in the author’s examination of Continuatio Eulogii. First, the Protestant Reformation in England was still some hundred and fifty years in the future. The Catholic Church exercised tremendous power and influence over England and its rulers during the mid-fourteenth century. The chronicler describes the tension between the Vatican and King Richard II. King Richard II ignored Pope Gregory XI’s order to seize all property owned by the Florentines, who agreed to pay tribute to him but who were not to be ruled by the pope. This resulted in an interesting debate among the king, English Parliament, and Catholic Church representatives over whether the pope or the king possessed ultimate authority. The church’s tremendous influence did not prevent numerous bishops and other clergy from losing their heads when they fell out of favor with Richard, not for religious reasons, but simply for having supported the wrong side in the revolts against the king.
Second, Continuatio Eulogii informs readers that while a king’s power and dominion was generally secure in medieval England, it was still subject to Parliament and noble families. Richard II was fourteen when the Peasant Revolt in 1381 resulted in violence and destruction throughout the kingdom. Richard’s marriage to Anne of Bohemia fanned the fears of a French invasion, and several members of his court, including Michael de la Pole and Robert de Vere, antagonized noble families. The chronicler depicts the reign of Richard II as particularly contentious with revolts against Richard’s rule eventually culminating in Richard’s deposition in 1399. Richard’s heavy-handed approach toward those who fell out of favor during the last years of his reign was the final straw before Parliament and prominent noble families demanded his abdication. Richard eventually conceded and abdicated. The period that followed was exceptionally chaotic because Richard II’s followers continued their efforts to return him to the throne.
The strength of Continuatio Eulogii is its exceptional prose and style; it is simply hard to put down. Given-Wilson’s extensive notes provides valuable context and depth to events described by the chronicler. The work is highly readable and may be the most comprehensive view of medieval events. This would be an excellent addition to the library of any historian or student with an interest on the subject.
Book Review written by: Jesse McIntyre III, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas