The Chaworth Roll
According to the Chaworth Roll, Egbert was ‘the first king of all England’, reigning 829–39. The Chaworth genealogical Roll of the kings of England was made in the 1320s for the Chaworth family, then it was brought up to date as far as Henry IV (1399–1413) and remained with Chaworth descendants until very recently. Such rolls were made for members of an increasingly literate aristocracy whose appetite for popular history flourished in 14th-century England.
This example provides a succinct overview of English history seasoned with tales of traitors, piety, battles, saints, sinners and incidents of divine intervention – a medieval equivalent of a popular modern television series on the monarchy. Written in Anglo-Norman French, which was still the dominant language of the aristocracy in the 1320s, its pithy and memorable texts grab the reader’s attention and summarise the highlights of each monarch’s reign.
The roll is 6.5 meters long, 24.5 cm wide and consists of nine parchment membranes glued end to end. Most of the roll is the work of a single artist, dubbed the Chaworth Master. The roll starts with an allegorical image of Dame Fortune and a map of England. Full-length seated portraits of the kings and their offspring are depicted in medallions, with accompanying text praising or utterly condemning.
Approximately thirty such genealogies produced in England in the decades between 1271 and 1327 survive. Within this group, the Chaworth Roll is especially close in style and content to three others, one in the Bodleian Library and two in Cambridge University Library, but is in far better condition.
By Alixe Bovey et al.
48 pages, paperback
300 x 240 mm, 42 colour illustrations
ISBN: 978 0 953942 20 6
By Alixe Bovey with Olivier de Laborderie and Marigold Norbye