The Rolls Series, official title The Chronicles and Memorials of Great Britain and Ireland during the Middle Ages, is a major collection of British and Irish historical materials and primary sources, published in the second half of the 19th century. Some 255 volumes, representing 99 separate works, were published. Almost all the great medieval English chronicles were included; most of the existing editions, published by the scholars of the 17th and 18th centuries, were unsatisfactory.
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.
In the new Series "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 upon an editio princeps, 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, and the volumes were to be issued in a convenient octavo form.
Works included the edition of the Chronica Majora of Matthew Paris by Luard; the Hoveden, Benedict of Peterborough, Ralph de Diceto, Walter of Coventry, and others, edited by William Stubbs; the works of Giraldus Cambrensis by Brewer, and the "Materials for the History of St. Thomas Becket" by Canon Robertson.
The scope of the Series is not just limited to the English Chroniclers. Legal records and tractates, such as the Year Books, 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 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 Friar Roger Bacon and Alexander Neckam, together with folklore materials like the three volumes of Leechdoms, Wortcunning and Starcraft of Anglo-Saxon times, were included in the Series.
Hagiographical documents, dealing for example with the lives of St. Dunstan, St. Edward the Confessor, St. Hugh of Lincoln, St. Thomas, as well as St. Wilfrid and other northern saints, occupy a prominent place 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.
The progress of the Rolls Series may best be traced in the Annual Reports of the Deputy Keeper of the Public Records.
- The official Custodian of the Records of the Court of Chancery and of the other Courts.
- David Knowles, "The Rolls Series," in Great Historical Enterprises (London, 1963)
- 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)