Royal genealogy: the descent of the kings of England from Adam

This fine manuscript chronicle intertwining chronology and genealogy is designed to demonstrate the direct descent of the kings of England from the first man, Adam. Fusing Scripture, secular history, and dynastic succession, it is illustrated with illuminated medallions of biblical scenes representing the six ages of the world and with roundels of monarchs beginning with William the Conqueror.  The popes and Holy Roman emperors appear on the left and right margins of the page. Designed to show the continuous succession of the crown from early times, it was produced at the very moment that England broke with Rome and may have been commissioned by Henry VIII himself. It can be dated quite precisely to 1533-4, after the king’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon and following his marriage to Anne Boleyn. No children are indicated: the absence of Mary, the future queen, is a deliberate omission reflecting her dubious status in the wake of these events; her half-sister Elizabeth had not yet been born. Drawing a flattering link between royal lineage and sacred genealogy, this document must be seen as an instrument of religio-political legitimisation. It smooths over the bumps and breaks in English history and creates a visual illusion of the antiquity of a dynasty whose possession of the throne only dated back to the fifteenth century. Originally a paper roll, it was later folded and bound into a book. The leather binding bears the arms of Archbishop Richard Bancroft. AW

Chronicle showing the descent of the Kings of England from Adam, 1533-34.

LPL: MS 19

This is one of a number of surviving manuscripts in which a Tudor pedigree was grafted onto the influential twelfth-century genealogy of Christ produced by Peter of Poitiers.

Further Reading

Sydney Anglo, ‘The British History in Early Tudor Propaganda’, Bulletin of the John Rylands Library, 44 (1961-2), pp. 17-48.

C.M.Kauffmann, ‘An Early Sixteenth-Century Genealogy of Anglo-Saxon Kings’, Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, 47 (1984), pp. 209-16.

Judith Collard, ‘Gender and Genealogy in English Illuminated Royal Genealogical Rolls from the Thirteenth Century’, Parergon, 17 (2000), pp. 11-34.

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