1902 Encyclopedia > Matthew of Paris (Matthew Paris)

Matthew of Paris
(Matthew Paris)
English chronicler, Benedictine monk, artist in illuminated manuscripts and cartographer
(c. 1200 – 1259)

MATTHEW OF PARIS, one of our most important writers in connexion with English mediaeval history, was born about the year 1200, or possibly somewhat earlier. His surname was probably derived either from his having been born in Paris or having studied in the university there; but his English origin is proved by the tone in which he uniformly speaks of foreigners, especially the French, while his knowledge of the French language is attested by the fact of his having written in that language, and also by the introduction of many French words in his Latin writ-ings.

We have it on his own authority, as recorded in an autograph marginal note (MS. Cott., Nero, D. 1, fol. 165Z»), that he assumed the monastic habit at the abbey of St Alban's on the 21st of January 1217. In 1236 he accompanied the newly-elected prior of his abbey, John of Hertford, to London, to attend the ceremony of the nuptials of Henry III. and Eleanor of Provence; and in October 1247 he was at Westminster, in order to be present at the celebration of the feast of St Edward the Confessor, when he was desired by the king himself to write an account of the proceedings. The most important event in his tranquil and uneventful life (which was passed chiefly within the walls of his monastery) occurred in the year 1248, when he was sent on a mission to the Benedic-tine monastery of Holm (Throndhjem), which had become involved in difficulties owing to the maladministration of one of its abbots. He returned to England after more than a year's absence, and we can trace him as attending the royal court at Winchester in July 1251, and as present at York on the occasion of the marriage of Henry's daughter with Alexander II. of Scotland, some six months later. In March 1257 Henry himself visited St Alban's, and remained at the monastery for a whole week. During this time he not only admitted Matthew to his table and to conversations in his private chamber, but also communi-cated to him facts and details of an historical character derived from his own personal knowledge and experience. Among other information, Matthew tells us that Henry repeated to him from memory the titles of the English baronies to the number of two hundred and fifty. The last incident recorded by the historian himself with respect to his own career is the fact that he exerted his influence with Henry on behalf of the university of Oxford, when that body found its privileges endangered by the encroach-ments of the bishop of Lincoln. In his latter years, Matthew's growing infirmities compelled him to have recourse to the aid of a fellow-monk in order to complete his works; this assistance is to be traced in the Historia Anglorum from 1252 to the end of the work (1253); in the Abbreviatio Chronicorum for the years 1253, 1254, and 1255 ; and in the Chronica Majora for the years 1258 and 1259. Matthew died after the month of May 1259, and his portrait, as he lay on his couch when dead, was drawn by his fellow-monk.

Works.—Matthew Paris's chief work, the Historia Major,—often styled the Chronica Majora,—is a narrative professing to record the outlines of human history from the creation, and terminating with the year 1259. It was long supposed that Roger of Wendover was the author of a much larger proportion of the work than was really the case ; but the question may be regarded as finally set at rest by the decisive investigations and conclusions of Dr Luard, as stated at length in his prefaces to the volumes of his edition of the work in the Rolls Series. He concludes that the Historia Major down to the year 1189 was the work of John de Cella, abbot of St Alban's from the J'ear 1195 to 1214 ; that it was then continued by Roger of Wendover on the same plan and from the same sources to the year 1235, the whole work down to this date passing for a long time as the production of the latter writer exclusively, and being known as the Florcs Historiarum ; that it was then transcribed by Matthew Paris, who, however, made numerous corrections and additions, but, in the opinion of Professor Stubbs, "interpreted'' rather than "interpolated"; that it was then continued by the same writer, and is, from 1235 to the year 1259, exclusively his work. In style, in vividness of narration, and in descriptive power Matthew far excels his two predecessors. He is also entitled to the praise of having been a warm advocate of English rights and liber-ties, and a sturdy opponent alike of regal and papal tyranny; in fact, the national sentiment may be said first, to receive adequate expression in his pages. The work, moreover, is not only the best source of information with respect to events in England during the reign of Henry III. down to the commencement of the Barons' Wars, but is also an authority with respect to Continental affairs, especially those of France and the empire.
The Historia Anglorum of Matthew is mainly an abridgment of his larger work,—the chief feature of difference being the omission of almost everything relating to foreign events. Sometimes, how-ever, details and more particularly personal anecdotes are introduced, with many minute facts and circumstances which would be sought for in vain elsewhere, and largely illustrate contemporary usages and the general condition of society. Besides the above, Matthew wrote an Abbreviatio Chronicorum, extendingfrom the year 1100 to 1255. Of this only one manuscript exists,—that in the author's own handwriting, preserved in the Cottonian collection in the British Museum, and printed in the third volume of the Historia Anglorum, edited by Sir Francis Madden. Matthew also compiled a Liber Aclditamentorum or Supplementorum, containing documents illustrative of the Greater Chronicle. This is contained, in the folio edition of Matthew's writings edited by Wats, and published in 1640.

The VUm viginti trium Abbatum S. Albani, or Lives of the Abbots of St Alban's, does not bear Matthew's name, hut is unques-tionably the production of his pen. The biographies which belong to the period preceding the Norman Conquest contain valuable and interesting notices, but also include much of what is evidently fabulous. The Vital duorum Off arum, or Lives of the two Of as,— the one a mythical character, the other the historic monarch of Mercia, —is a composition of little value, and some doubt attaches to the authorship. Both the foregoing, however, are included in the edition by Wats.

Editions. —The best edition of the Historia Major is that by Dr Luard, published in five volumes in the Rolls Series, 1872-80. Of the Historia Minor an edition in three volumes in the same series was edited by Sir Frederic Madden, 1866-69. (J. B. M.)

The above article was written by: J. Bass Mullinger, M.A.

About this EncyclopediaTop ContributorsAll ContributorsToday in History
Terms of UsePrivacyContact Us

© 2005-19 1902 Encyclopedia. All Rights Reserved.

This website is the free online Encyclopedia Britannica (9th Edition and 10th Edition) with added expert translations and commentaries