Paris, Matthew

Paris, Matthew
(ca. 1200–1259)
   Matthew Paris was an English monk and Latin chronicler, whose influential account of the early part of the reign of Henry III is admired for its lively narration and for its use of eyewitness accounts, including his own personal knowledge. Matthew joined the Benedictine abbey of Saint Albans in Hertfordshire in 1217.While it has been suggested that his surname may indicate he attended the University of Paris, there is no need for such an assumption, since the name was a common one in England in the 13th century, particularly in Lincolnshire. Thus Matthew may well have completed his education in the abbey. He was, in any case, quite learned.When the abbey’s official historiographer, Roger of Wendover, died in 1236, Matthew took over Roger’s position, and completed the work that was to become his most important composition, the Chronica majora (“Great Chronicle”). The first part of the chronicle is Matthew’s reworking of Roger’s text. The second part is Matthew’s original composition, covering the period from 1235 to 1259. The work is unusual in its incorporation of world history, including events in continental Europe and the East. It appears by the history that Matthew was personally acquainted with Henry III, and may have been present at his marriage to Eleanor of Provence in 1236. At any rate the details of the text have led scholars to speculate about Matthew being in the king’s favor. Matthew’s negative portrayal of Henry’s father, King John, however, has been influential on historians’ views of that monarch and has only recently come into question. Matthew was important enough in his own day to be sent in 1248 on a papal mission to the Benedictine monastery of Holm (Trondheim) in Norway. In the meantime Matthew was writing other historical works, including his Chronica minora (Minor chronicle), also called the Historia Anglorum (History of England). This is a shorter history focused on England from 1200 to 1250, mainly summarizing the major chronicle, but with some additional material. Matthew also produced his Vitae abbatum S. Albani (Lives of the abbots of Saint Albans), which compiles biographies of the first 23 abbots of Matthew’s home monastery.
   Only the last three, ending in the year 1255, are likely Matthew’s completely original compositions. Matthew also wrote in French, and is generally acknowledged to be the author of four SAINTS’ LIVES in Anglo-Norman verse: one on the Saxon king Edward the Confessor, one on St. Edmund, one on St. Albans, and one on Thomas BECKETT, which survives only in fragmentary form. At one time Matthew was believed to be the author of the Vitae duorum offarum (Lives of the two offas), a text found in some manuscripts of the Chronica majora, but scholars no longer believe he wrote those lives. Matthew was apparently a skilled artist as well as a historian, and is credited with illustrating some of his manuscripts with drawings, diagrams, maps, and miniature painting.
   ■ Lewis, Suzanne. The Art of Matthew Paris in the Chronica majora. Berkeley: University of California Press in collaboration with Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, 1987.
   ■ Paris,Matthew. The Illustrated Chronicles of Matthew Paris: Observations of Thirteenth-Century Life. Translated, edited, and with an introduction by Richard Vaughan. Cambridge: Corpus Christi College, 1993.
   ■ ———. The Life of St. Edmund. Translated, edited, and with a biography by C. H. Lawrence. Oxford: A. Sutton, 1996.
   ■ Vaughan, Richard. Matthew Paris. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1958.

Encyclopedia of medieval literature. 2013.

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