John of Worcester’s Chronicon ex chronicis
Continue to the Text
Brother John of Worcester was a scribe at Worcester Cathedral Priory who was instructed by his bishop,
Bishop Wulfstan, to prepare this chronicle. Chronicon ex chronicis is a world history which begins with the creation and ends in 1140.
The chronological framework of the Chronicon was provided by the chronicle of Marianus Scotus, an Irish anchorite living in Mainz
who died in 1082. Marianus’ Chronicon was probably completed by 1076 and copies are held in
the British Library and the Vatican. In his chronicle John used three other sources - Bede’s Historia
Ecclesiastica, Eadmer of Canterbury’s Historia Novorum (for events between 1102 and 1122) and lastly the
great Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.
The Chronicon survives in five manuscripts (and a fragment on a single leaf):
MS 157 (Oxford, Corpus Christi College)
MS 502 (Dublin, Trinity College)
MS 42 (Lambeth Palace Library)
MS Bodley 297 (Oxford, Bodleian Library)
MS 92 (Cambridge, Corpus Christi College)
There is also the chronicula, a minor chronicle up to 1123 based on the Chronicon: MS 503 (Dublin, Trinity College).
The MS of the Chronicon mostly used here is the MS Corpus Christi 157, which for the period from 446 AD was transcribed by Benjamin
Thorpe in 1848 and from 1118 AD by J.R.H.Weaver in 1908. It was translated by Thomas Forester / published by Henry G. Bohn in 1854.
The principal manuscript is in Latin, with tinted and painted drawings of the Crucifixion, sunspots and visions of Henry I. It is a
fair copy up to AD 1128, with the annals for 1128-31 rewritten and continued to 1140 by a third hand, probably John himself, at
Worcester Cathedral Priory. Oxford University has released a detailed scan of the manuscript for research purposes on its “Early
Manuscripts at Oxford University” website. My illustration gives an impression of the first page of this translation but viewing
the detailed scan is highly rewarding. It seems that the work is not as well known as it perhaps should be.
One curiousity that should be mentioned is that Brother John shows Marianus’ dates alongside the now accepted Dionysian calendar.
Marianus reckoned that Dionysus had the birth of Christ twenty-two years late so in the text John has put, for example, at the
left-hand end of the dateline MCLII for 1152 AD and, at the right-hand end, MCXXX for 1130 AD. The translation
needless to say is arranged by the latter modern date.
The historian Ordericus Vitalis, a monk from St.Evroult in Normandy visited Worcester to gather material for his own chronicle and
saw John's chronicle. He recorded that “John of Worcester, a native of England, and a monk of Worcester, a man of venerable character
and great learning, in the additions which he has made to the chronicles of Marianus Scotus, has gathered faithful accounts of King William,
and of the events which occurred in his reign, and those of his two sons, William Rufus and king Henry to the present day.”