Benedictine monk and chronicler
Born ? Died 1236
It is generally presumed that Roger was indeed a native of Wendover in Buckinghamshire but other than that nothing is known of the circumstances of his birth or upbringing. Indeed the materials for his biography are sparse indeed. It is known that he became a monk at St Albans Abbey, was afterwards appointed prior of Belvoir Abbey, but lost that position sometime during the early years of the reign of Henry III, having been found guilty of the offence of 'wasting the endowments', after which he returned to St Albans, where he died on the 6th May 1236.
It was during this later period of retirement at St. Albans, that Roger appears to have been appointed to the post of 'historian in residence' at the monastery and compiled one of the traditional monastic histories of the world, beginning at the creation and ending at the present day, which in Roger's case was the year 1235.
At the time St Albans, a wealthy monastic foundation in close proximity to the capital London
, had become one of the chief centres for the production of monastic chronicles, following the decision of Simon the Abbot of St Albans
(who died in 1183) to establish within the monastery's scriptorium the post of official historiographer. The abbey had likely built up a wealth of materials to support such an endeavour by Roger's time and although there were clearly others who had held the position before him, Roger was the first of these St Albans chroniclers whose work has survived, and is therefore regarded as "the first of the great chroniclers of St Albans Abbey
Since in the preface to his history Roger claimed to complied his work "from the books of catholic writers worthy of credit, just as flowers of various colours are gathered from various fields
", his work became known as the Flores Historiarum
or the 'Flowers of History'. It is generally supposed, although the evidence is inconclusive, that Roger based his work on an earlier compilation by John de Cella
(abbot of St Albans from 1195 to 1214) which extended until the year 1189, and that his material for the period between 1192 to 1201 was based on the work of Roger of Hoveden
; but from the year 1202 onwards it was all his own work.
Opinions on the value of Roger's work differ. His account of events from 1202 to 1235 is considered "an original and valuable authority"1, with the years between 1216 and 1235 in particular earning praise as a "full and lively narrative of contemporary events"2, and John Allen Giles went as far as to also praise his account of the period 447 to 1200 which he regarded as "of great value, not as a work of original authority, for the writer was not contemporary with the events which happened during that interval, but because he has gathered his materials from other original sources, many of which have since perished."
However in spite of such plaudits Roger of Wendover is not particularly well regarded as an historian in other quarters and has been described as "a copious but inaccurate writer"3 whilst his history "contains many fantastic and distorted stories"3 and warns that "Where he is the sole authority for an event, he is to be used with caution". (Although to be honest, one could say much the same about any medieval chronicler.) It is however now recognised that the largely negative picture of king John that has survived to the present day is in large part due to the hostility demonstrated by Roger. (Although his successor Matthew of Paris was, if anything, even more prejudiced in this regard.)
Roger's work has survived in the form of;
The Flores Historiarum has since appeared in;
- an edition prepared by H. O. Coxe for the English Historical Society in 1841 which covered the period from 447 (when Roger first turned to the history of Britain);
- a further edition re-edited by H. G. Hewlett in 1886-1889 as part of the Rolls Series which restricted itself the more valuable part of the work (from 1154 to 1235);
although the most widely used version used today is the translation by J.A. Giles published in 1849 which is still available in print from the Llanerch Press.
NOTES AND SOURCES
- 1 The entry for Roger of Wendover in The Catholic Encyclopedia See www.newadvent.org/cathen/
- 2 Ward and Trent, et al. The Cambridge History of English and American Literature. New York: (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1907–21; New York) reproduced at (www.bartleby.com/cambridge/).
- 3The entry for Roger of Wendover in The 1911 Encyclopedia Brittanica
- 4The entry for Roger of Wendover The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition, 2004.