Online Medieval Sources Bibliography

An Annotated Bibliography of Printed and Online Primary Sources for the Middle Ages

Source Details

Childs, Wendy R. trans., ed.; Denholm-Young, N., trans., ed., Vita Edwardi Secundi (Oxford: Clarendon)

Text name(s): Vita Edwardi Secundi; Life of Edward II

Number of pages of primary source text: 121

Author(s): 

Dates: 1285 - 1327

Archival Reference: MS Rawlinson B. 180

Original Language(s): 

  • Latin

Translation: 

  • Translated into English.
  • Original language included.

Translation Comments: facing page

Geopolitical Region(s): 

  • England

County/Region: 

Record Types: 

  • Biography

Subject Headings: 

  • Historiography
  • Government
  • Diplomacy
  • Nobility / Gentry
  • Political Thought
  • Royalty / Monarchs
  • War - Military History

Apparatus: 

  • Index
  • Bibliography
  • Introduction

Comments: 

Edward II (1284-1327) was as controversial in his own time as he is in modern scholarship. Tales circulated of his affairs with the courtier Piers Gaveston (to whom he is said to have given his wife’s jewelry) and of his forced abdication and his rather ignominious death in the Tower of London (as the result of a strategically placed hot poker). The Vita Edwardi Secundi, written by an anonymous, probably secular cleric, provides a far more balanced picture of the unfortunate monarch. The editor suggests that this text by providing a contemporary view of the events it describes, indicates that rather than blaming Edward’s downfall on his rather sensationalized life, that his reign was instead a perfect example of the result of the breakdown of a king’s relationship with his barons.

The text is re-edited with new introduction, new historical notes, and revised translation based on Denholm-Young’s (1957). Also includes a concordance and an index of quotations and allusions.

Introduction Summary: 

Lengthy (60 pp) introduction includes a thorough discussion of the manuscript, in which the editor describes the original transcription of the text in 1729 by Thomas Hearne from a manuscript containing various chronicles and historical texts, upon which the text of her translation is based. She notes that several leaves of the manuscript have evidently been lost, including passages for the years 1322 and 1323 containing the lament for York, a description of the parliament at York, and the Scottish expedition, and Harclay’s execution. The editor discusses dating of the manuscript, which she places sometime in the second half of the 14th century, though not by the original author of the Vita, which she suggests was finished between 1310 and 1313, though she acknowledges that the earlier received date of 1325-6 (accepted by most previous editors) may still be valid. Following Denholm-Young, the editor suggests that the Vita was composed by a secular clerk, though she does not suggest a specific name. She also notes that the work is an example of literary history, with its attendant conventions: intermittent use of the historical present, particularly to describe battle scenes, and the use of direct speech between historical figures.

The editor also provides a brief historical and historiographical overview of the life of Edward II, suggesting that Edward II’s reign was a perfect example of the result of the breakdown of a king’s relationship with his barons. It also contains some intriguing discussion of the line between treason and resistance against an unjust authority. Though the book does not contain a separate bibliography, recent historiography is acknowledged in several lengthy footnotes. The editor suggests that the Vita is particularly useful as it represents the views of a contemporary of the events it describes, presented in a reasonably evenhanded manner.

Cataloger: MCB

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