Cambridge, University Library, MS Ee.3.59

This book contains the only surviving copy of the illustrated Anglo-Norman verse La Estoire de Seint Aedward le Rei. Though the question of its authorship continues to be debated, most commentators regard it as the work of Matthew Paris (d. 1259). La Estoire de Seint Aedward le Rei was certainly composed in England, and probably in the late 1230s or early 1240s, as it is dedicated to Eleanor of Provence, who married King Henry III in 1236 and because passages in the poem about Edward’s refoundation of Westminster Abbey seem to anticipate the rebuilding which Henry III began in 1245. There are also many correspondences between the text and known the historical works of the St Albans’ monk. Contemporary relevance has also been seen in the text’s emphasis on the saint’s staunch opposition to foreigner intruders, on his wisdom in relying on baronial counsel and his concern to conciliate others. The text is largely based on Aelred of Rievaulx’s Latin Life of St Edward, which was itself written around the time of the saint’s canonisation (1161) and translation (1163). The introductory section derives from Aelred’s Genealogia regum Anglorum.

firebeastRegarded as a masterpiece of English illumination, Cambridge Ee.3.59 comprises 37 folios and contains 64 pictures. The script was executed by a single scribe until the last page, the illustrations by two artists. The format of the manuscript, with framed illustrations at the head of the page, resembles Paris’s own illustrated manuscripts, such as his Vie de Seint Auban, his Life of St Alban, in Dublin, Trinity College, MS 177; but the present codex is now thought to be a copy made from Paris's autograph in the 1250s at Westminster Abbey under the influence of the scriptorial and artistic traditions of that monastery. This much has been inferred from certain stylistic affinities with deluxe manuscripts produced there, such as the Getty Apocalypse, the Morgan Apocalypse and the Tanner Apocalypse. It has also been suggested that it was produced for Eleanor of Castile, daughter-in-law of Henry III, about the time of her marriage to Prince Edward in 1254.

Significantly for our purposes, the author offers an explanation of the book’s purpose when, towards the end of the text, he addresses the saint with the following words:

Now I pray you, noble King Edward, to remember me, a sinner who has translated your story from Latin into French as my intelligence and skill allowed, so that the memory of you may be spread about. For laypeople who do not know how to read, I have also represented your story in illustrations in this very same book, because I want the eyes to see what the ears hear. Of this work I make you a gift, for my poverty allows no more; I have neither gold nor silver in my keeping. I pray God that after this life I may reign with you in the heavenly kingdom. Amen. (vv. 3955–74)

The ideas expressed here are, however, very conventional, deriving as they do from Gregory the Great’s letter to Bishop Serenus of Marseilles, a locus classicus for the argument that the unlettered could be taught by means of visual representations.


Facsimile: Cambridge, University Library, MS Ee.3.59

Text: K. Y. Wallace, La Estoire de Seint Aedward le Rei, Anglo-Norman Text Society 41 (London, 1983); H. R. Luard (ed. and trs.), Lives of Edward the Confessor, RS 3 (London, 1858), pp. 1–311 [MU5].

Translation: T. S. Fenster and J. Wogan-Browne, The History of Saint Edward the King by Matthew Paris, Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies Series 341 (Tempe, AZ, 2008), pp. 53–114. MVCV.

Principal Source: Aelred of Rievaulx, Vita et miraculis Edwardi regis et confessoris (BHL 2423), ed. R. Twysden and J. Selden, Historiæ Anglicanæ Scriptores X, 2 vols. (London, 1652), i, 369–414; rpt. PL 195, cols. 701–96; trs. J. P. Freeland, Aelred of Rievaulx: The Historical Works, ed. M. L. Dutton, Cistercian Fathers Ser. 56 (Kalamazoo, MI, 2005), pp. 125–243. PN.DP.A2.

Commentary

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