The Chronicles and Memorials of Great Britain and Ireland during the Middle Ages (Latin, Rerum Britannicarum medii aevi scriptores), widely known as the Rolls Series, is a major collection of British and Irish historical materials and primary sources, published as 99 works in 253 volumes between 1858 and 1911. Almost all the great medieval English chronicles were included. Most existing editions, published by scholars of the 17th and 18th centuries, were considered to be unsatisfactory.
The series takes its unofficial name from the fact that its volumes were published "by the authority of Her Majesty's Treasury, under the direction of the Master of the Rolls", the official custodian of the records of the Court of Chancery and of the other Courts.
The publication of the series was undertaken by the British Government in accordance with a scheme submitted in 1857 by the Master of the Rolls, then Sir John Romilly. A previous undertaking of the same kind, the Monumenta Historica Britannica, had failed after the publication of the first volume (1036 folio pages, London, 1848). The principal editor, Henry Petrie had died, and its form was cumbrous. Representations were made by Joseph Stevenson, and the scheme of 1857 was the direct outcome of this appeal.
Funding for the project began to be reduced from the mid-1880s, and thereafter, although work continued on editions already in progress, few new works were initiated. The final volume, the second part of the Year Book for the 20th year of Edward III (1346–7), was published in 1911.
In the series as proposed, "preference was to be given in the first instance to such materials as were most scarce and valuable", each chronicle was to be edited as if the editor were engaged on an editio princeps, and a brief account was to be provided in a suitable preface of the life and times of the author as well as a description of the manuscripts employed. The volumes were to be issued in octavo form.
Works included the edition of the Chronica Majora of Matthew Paris by H. R. Luard; the chronicles of Roger of Hoveden, Benedict of Peterborough, Ralph de Diceto, Walter of Coventry, and others, edited by William Stubbs; the works of Giraldus Cambrensis by J. S. Brewer; and the Materials for the History of St Thomas Becket by James Craigie Robertson.
The scope of the series was not limited to chronicles. It also encompassed archival records and legal tracts, such as the Year Books of Edward I and Edward III, the Black Book of the Admiralty, and Bracton's work De Legibus et Consuetudinibus Angliæ, materials of a more or less legendary character relating to Ireland and Scotland, such as Whitley Stokes's edition of The Tripartite Life of St. Patrick, or the Icelandic sagas edited by Guðbrandur Vigfússon and G.W. Dasent; rhymed chronicles like those of Robert of Gloucester and Robert of Brunne in English, and that of Pierre de Langtoft in French; quasi-philosophical works like those of Roger Bacon and Alexander Neckam, together with folklore materials like the three volumes of Leechdoms, Wortcunning and Starcraft of Anglo-Saxon times. Hagiographical documents, dealing for example with the lives of St Dunstan, St Edward the Confessor, St Hugh of Lincoln, St Thomas Becket, and St Wilfrid and other northern saints, were also included in the collection.
The vast bulk of the texts are in Latin, printed without translation. Those in old French, Anglo-Saxon, Irish, Gaelic, Welsh, old Norse, etc. have a translation annexed.
Many of the Rolls Series volumes were reprinted under licence in the 1960s and 1970s by the Kraus Reprint Corporation (part of the Kraus-Thomson Organization Ltd.) of Millwood, New York.
Numbering of volumes
The works published within the series were not sequentially numbered (although the individual parts of multi-volume works were numbered). This presented bibliographers and librarians with a number of problems, and citations of volumes, and their arrangement within libraries, has therefore varied. Many libraries, however, adopted the unofficial numbering scheme, 1–99, used within HMSO Sectional List 24, British National Archives.
- Knowles 1961, p. 155 (Knowles 1963, p. 128).
- Knowles 1963, pp. 128–9.
- This statement of intent, dated December 1857, is published as a preamble to all volumes.
- Knowles, M.D. (1961). "Presidential Address: Great Historical Enterprises IV: The Rolls Series". Transactions of the Royal Historical Society. 5th ser. 11: 137–159. doi:10.2307/3678755. JSTOR 3678755. Retrieved 2014-03-12. Reprinted in Knowles, David (1963). Great Historical Enterprises. Problems in monastic history. London: Nelson. pp. 99–134.
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Thurston, Herbert (1912). "Rolls Series". In Herbermann, Charles. Catholic Encyclopedia 13. Robert Appleton Company. source cites:
- Gross, The Sources and Literature of English History (New York, 1900)
- August Potthast, Bibliotheca historica medii aevi (Berlin, 1896)