Matthew Paris, Chronicler of St. Albans

During the first half of the thirteenth century, Matthew Paris recorded in words and drawings the events of world history. W.N. Bryant tells his story.

During the later middle ages many monasteries produced their own chronicles. The writing of each chronicle would normally be the responsibility of one of the monks, and when he died another brother would continue his work. These monastic writers rarely recorded their own names, and very often their chronicles are of no more than parochial interest. At the monastery of St. Albans, however, the case was different. There, a very important chronicle was begun by Roger Wendover, probably in 1201, and continued by a series of scribes until the fifteenth century. This chronicle, the Chronica Majora, was written on a massive scale; it fills twenty-nine of the large volumes published in the nineteenth century as part of the Rolls Series. It covers the period from the creation of the world until 1422, but its most famous portion deals with the middle years of the reign of Henry III. This portion was written by Matthew Paris who took over the writing of the chronicle on Wendover’s death in 1235.

Matthew Paris became a monk of St. Albans on St. Agnes’ Day, January 21st, 1217, when he was about seventeen years old. We have no information about his parentage, youth, or education. It was once thought that his surname proved his French origins, but this is now deemed unlikely because ‘Paris’ was quite a common surname in thirteenth-century England.

Very little is known of the life of Matthew Paris. On a number of occasions, however, he met King Henry III, and of these meetings we have some details. Thus he was present at the royal celebration at Westminster of the feast of St. Edward the Confessor on October 13th, 1247. Henry summoned Matthew to sit by him and they had a conversation:

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