History and Hagiography in Matthew Paris’s Illustrated Life of Edward the Confessor

History and Hagiography in Matthew Paris’s Illustrated Life of Edward the Confessor

By Deirdre Anne Carter

Master’s Thesis, Florida State University, 2009

Abstract: In the mid-thirteenth century, the English monk, author, and artist Matthew Paris produced a rich collection of illustrated manuscripts. Although he is best known for his historical chronicles, Matthew also wrote and illustrated several saints’ lives, including those of Saint Alban, Edward the Confessor, and Thomas Becket. The existing copies of these works reveal that Matthew frequently infused his saints’ lives with additional historical material, blurring the lines between history and hagiography.

This thesis focuses on the Life of Edward the Confessor (Cambridge, University Library, MS Ee.3.59) and explores the way in which Matthew visually represents the lengthy historical sequences that he has added to the more traditional account of the saint. I argue that these additions have a significant impact on the narrative and that they suggest that Matthew had an unusual understanding of how history and hagiography relate to one another. I begin with an exploration of the differing approaches that Matthew took in the illustration of his saints’ lives as opposed to his chronicles and demonstrate that Matthew decorated both types of manuscripts with innovative images that were tailored to suit their accompanying texts. I then investigate the nature of Matthew’s alterations to his Life of Edward the Confessor and argue that these historical additions provide a contextual frame for the hagiographic narrative by placing Edward’s saintly life within the broader context of English history.

Furthermore, I suggest that Matthew carefully designed the illustrations of this historical material in order to present his intended reader, Queen Eleanor of Provence, with a very special manuscript that suited her age, lineage, and status as an influential woman. I argue that Matthew’s historical additions created a narrative that was not only spiritually affective, but also entertaining, educational, and representative of contemporary changes in the notion of both history and sainthood.

Click here to read this thesis from Florida State University

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