Trevisa’s Translation of Higden’s Polychronicon, Book I, Chapter 38, De Wallia: an Edition

  • Ronald Waldron
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


Higden tells us in his Second Preface to the Polychronicon [Chronicle of Many Times] that the first of the seven books “describes places and countries and lands all over the world,” while the subsequent six books contain an account of the conduct and deeds of the six ages of man from the creation to “our time” (i.e., the fourteenth century). For Higden the world is no flat earth, but a sphere, precisely 20,040 miles in circumference, in which the three continents of Asia, Africa, and Europe are surrounded by the great Ocean, which “embraces all the earth like a garland.” He intended that every copy of the Polychronicon should have as a frontispiece a mappa mundi, like the famous Hereford one, and some extant copies do have this. The first book (after a discussion of the location of the Earthly Paradise) describes the inhabited world, starting with India in the Far East and moving westwards through Asia Minor, the Middle East, and North Africa, to Western Europe, homing in, in Chapters 32–60, on Ireland and Britannia, a term he uses interchangeably with Anglia to refer to England alone, as well as for the whole complex of regions later called the British Isles.


Fourteenth Century British Library Latin Text Flat Earth Extant Copy 
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  1. 1.
    Contrary to his usual practice, Higden gives no sources for this chapter in the body of the text. His list of sources in Chap. 2 of Book I, however, mentions three works of Giraldus: Topographia Hiberniae, Itinerarium Wallie, and Vita Regis Henrici Secundi. It may be that he mentally subsumed the Descriptio Kambriae (which he certainly used, as the Commentary section will show) under the second of these. The two works of Giraldus that Higden used for this chapter are specified in the Commentary section as Itin. and Descr., referring to the Latin texts as edited by James F. Dimock (London: Longmans, Green, Reader, and Dyer, 1868) Rolls Series [RS] 21, vol. 6, and the English translations by Lewis Thorpe in Gerald of Wales, The Journey through Wales and the Description of Wales (London: Penguin, 1978).Google Scholar
  2. 4.
    On this subject see A. S. G. Edwards, “The Influence and Audience of the Polychronicon: Some Observations,” Proceedings of the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society: Literary and Historical Section 17 (1980): 113–19.Google Scholar
  3. 5.
    Trevisa’s complicity in Higden’s pejorative picture of the Welsh is further evidence that, though a Cornishman, he felt no personal affinity with Celtic Britain nor any wish to vindicate its legendary history as related by Geoffrey of Monmouth. See John E. Housman, “Higden, Trevisa, Caxton, and the Beginnings of Arthurian Criticism,” Review of English Studies 22 (1947): 209–17, and my reply in Notes and Queries 234 (1989): 303–7.Google Scholar
  4. 7.
    Ronald Waldron, ed., John Trevisas Translation of thePolychroniconof Ranulph Higden. Book VI, Middle English Texts 35 (Heidelberg: C. Winter, 2004).Google Scholar

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© Ruth Kennedy and Simon Meecham-Jones 2008

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  • Ronald Waldron

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