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Matthew Paris, Chronica Maiora


This article discusses the first printed editions of Mathew Paris’s thirteenth-century chronicle, Chronica Maiora, arguing that these editions show a much higher level of editorial sophistication than has yet been recognized. Written between 1235 and 1259, the Chronica Maiora is one of the most extensive and detailed chronicles of medieval England; yet the work was not printed until 1571, as part of a series of historical publications overseen by Matthew Parker, Archbishop of Canterbury. Although the text of Parker’s edition has been almost universally criticized by scholars, this work suggests that he actually set a high editorial standard, especially by collating several manuscripts to produce his edition. His successor, William Wats, who republished Matthew Paris in 1640, went even further with his collations, adding at the end of his edition an appendix that detailed the differences among the seven manuscripts used. Wats was also one of the earliest editors to advertise his collations in his title, suggesting that he regarded his work as more scholarly than that of his contemporaries. Analyzing the editorial work of Parker and Wats can illuminate both book history and the history of printing: Parker’s clear interest in preservation as one motive for his edition (an interest that supports the contention of Elizabeth Eisenstein that printing was a means of preserving texts); the use of one manuscript as a copy text in the printer’s shop; and the intriguing joint publication of Wats’s edition by two London publishers. Reassessing these editions and their editors, suggests that both the editors and their editions have been too readily dismissed.