Sarah Peverley on John Hardyng and his Chronicle
John Hardyng, Chronicle: Edited from British Library MS Lansdowne 204. Edited by James Simpson and Sarah Peverley (Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, 2015).
Completed in 1457 for Henry VI and his family, John Hardyng’s first Chronicle survives uniquely in London, British Library MS Lansdowne 204. As one of only a handful of texts written in the twilight years of Henry VI’s reign, the Chronicle covers the history of Britain and England from its mythical foundation by the Greek princess Albina and her twenty-nine sisters to the end of Henry VI’s minority. Hardyng, an ex-soldier and spy of Henry V, set about composing the work after he ‘retired’ to the Augustinian priory at South Kyme, Lincolnshire, in the 1440s or 1450s.
Anchored by the same rhetorical tropes, Boethian frame of reference, and rhyme-royal or “Chaucerian” stanza underpinning other fifteenth-century vernacular “public poetry,” the Chronicle uses the exemplarity of an imagined past to highlight the transience of divided nations and the susceptibility of kings and highborn men to the vicissitudes of Fortune. Engaging with traditional, yet historically specific themes, such as war, lawlessness, justice, ineffectual leadership, and self-governance, it also constructs an “historical mythology” for the English nobility that Hardyng had served throughout his life.
Until recently the political immediacy of the Chronicle and its relationship with other fifteenth-century literature was overlooked in favour of the text’s repeated engagement with the issue of English hegemony over Scotland, but, as this edition shows, Hardyng’s work offers a compelling insight into late medieval perceptions of kingship and governance on the cusp of the Wars of the Roses, and captures the tastes, hopes, and anxieties of a late fifteenth-century gentleman who had witnessed, and all too often participated in, each of the key events that defined his era.
Containing an overview of Hardyng’s life and an extensive account of the manuscript preserving the text, this is the first complete edition of the Chronicle. Volume 1 covers Hardyng’s mythological material, from Britain’s founding by the Greek princess Albina to the arrival of King Gurmond of Africa.
You can read the free online version of the edition from TEAMS Middle English Texts
BBC Arts TV feature presented by Sarah Peverley on Hardyng and Scottish Independence
BBC Radio 3 feature on ‘The Real Game of Thrones: Power in the Fifteenth Century’ (focused on Hardyng’s Chronicle) by Sarah Peverley