Sir Thomas Gray’s Scalacronica: a medieval chronicle and its historical and literary context
By Andy King
Master’s Thesis, Durham University, 1998
Abstract: Sir Thomas Gray’s Scalacronica is almost unique amongst medieval English chronicles in having been written by a knight, and it is therefore surprising that so little work has been done on it; this thesis attempts to remedy that omission. Gray’s life is very well documented, as is that of his father (who was the source of much of the Scalacronica’s narrative of the reign of Edward n – and also its main subject). Thus, unusually with a medieval chronicle, it is possible to examine the work in the context of its author’s career, providing a valuable insight into the attitudes and learning of a member of the gentry classes in fourteenth-century England.
The Scalacronica starts with a well known literary dream sequence in which Gray names some of his written sources. An analysis of this passage reveals much about Gray’s learning and his methods as a historian – and about his literary pretensions. He also relied on stories gleaned from his father; the manner in which he integrated them with his written sources is equally revealing about his interests and priorities. As the elder Gray was close to the court of Edward II, his son’s political commentary is particularly interesting, providing an alternative to the more usual pro-Lancastrian bias of medieval chroniclers. Furthermore, both the father and son were prominent in the administration of the Marches, so the Scalacronica has an obvious – but hitherto unrecognised – relevance to current historiographical debates on the role of the gentry.
Finally, the Scalacronica has been widely regarded as a ‘chivalric’ chronicle, embodying the values of medieval romance. However, a close analysis of Gray’s text reveals that while he admired and respected acts of martial heroism, his attitude to the trappings of fourteenth-century chivalric culture was highly disdained, and even cynical.