Unrolling history : fifteenth-century political culture and perceptions on the Canterbury Roll.
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Arts
The Canterbury Roll is a fifteenth-century genealogical chronicle roll that traces the succession of English kings from Noah until the Wars of the Roses. Created in a period when genealogy and ancestry had practical and ideological meaning in society, the Canterbury Roll is symbolic of the ideas of dynasty, myth and heritage that its original creators and readers valued. This thesis departs from previous historiographical approaches to genealogical rolls by treating the Canterbury Roll as a document that reflects the political culture in which it was produced. By examining the image, text and materiality of the manuscript, the thesis develops on existing scholarship and offers insights into the depiction of political prophecies, political theories of effective kingship, the justification of royal deposition and English perceptions towards foreign kingdoms and dominions. Political prophecies on the roll reveal how genealogy and prophecy contribute to a broader sense of history and prestige that the Lancastrian kings claimed to inherit. By using mythical royal depositions, the roll justifies the removal of Richard II and the Lancastrian dynasty’s legitimacy through not only hereditary right, but also contemporary political theory that validated the ousting of ineffective kings. The thesis also establishes that the roll reveals contemporary English attitudes towards other territories such as Scotland, Wales and France, which reflect the political and diplomatic context of the period. These themes demonstrate the capacity of genealogical manuscripts to present a nuanced view of contemporary political concepts. In doing so, this thesis both provides an in-depth textual analysis of the Canterbury Roll, and contributes to the historiography of medieval genealogical literature and political thought by approaching the manuscript as a source for the political culture of early fifteenth-century England.