Ranulf Higden

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Ranulf Higden or Higdon (c. 1280 – 12 March 1364) was an English chronicler and a Benedictine monk of the monastery of St. Werburgh in Chester.[1] He is believed to have been born in the West of England, taken the monastic vow (Benedictine) at Chester in 1299, and travelled over the north of England.


Higden was the author of the Polychronicon, a long chronicle, one of several such works of universal history and theology. It was based on a plan taken from Scripture, and written for the amusement and instruction of his society. It is commonly styled Polychronicon, from the longer title Ranulphi Castrensis, cognomine Higden, Polychronicon (sive Historia Polycratica) ab initio mundi usque ad mortem regis Edwardi III in septem libros dispositum. The work is divided into seven books, in humble imitation of the seven days of Genesis, and, with exception of the last book, is a summary of general history, a compilation made with considerable style and taste. Written in Latin, it was translated into English by John of Trevisa (1387), and printed by Caxton (1480), and by others. For two centuries it was an approved work.

World map in a late 14th-century manuscript of Ranulf's Polychronicon (British Library).
East is at the top and Jerusalem at the centre; the Red Sea at top right is coloured red.

It seems to have enjoyed considerable popularity in the 15th century. It was the standard work on general history, and more than a hundred manuscripts of it are known to exist. The Christ Church manuscript says that Higden wrote it down to the year 1342; this document can be viewed online.[2] The fine manuscript at Christ's College, Cambridge, states that he wrote to the year 1344, after which date, with the omission of two years, John of Malvern, a monk of Worcester, carried the history on to 1357, at which date it ends.

According, however, to one editor, Higden's part of the work goes no further than 1326 or 1327 at latest, after which time it was carried on by two continuators to the end. Thomas Gale, in his Hist. Brit. &c., scriptores, xv. (Oxon., 1691), published that portion of it, in the original Latin, which comes down to 1066.

Three early translations of the Polychronicon exist. The first was made by John of Trevisa, chaplain to Lord Berkeley, in 1387, and was printed by Caxton in 1480; the second by an anonymous writer, was written between 1432 and 1450; the third, based on Trevisa's version, with the addition of an eighth book, was prepared by Caxton. These versions are specially valuable as illustrating the change of the English language during the period they cover.

The Polychronicon, with the continuations and the English versions, was edited for the Rolls Series (No. 41) by Churchill Babington (vols. i. and ii.) and Joseph Rawson Lumby (1865–1886).[3][4] This edition was adversely criticized by Mandell Creighton in the Eng. Hist. Rev. for October 1888. There is a recent translation of his sermons by Margaret Jennings and Sally A. Wilson.[5]

Higden is buried in Chester Cathedral.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Ranulf Higden". Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Retrieved 2 August 2010.
  2. ^ Christ Church MS.89 medieval.bodleian.ox.ac.uk
  3. ^ C. Babington & J.R. Lumby, Polychronicon Ranulphi Higden Monachi Cestrensis together with the English Translations of John Trevisa and of an Unknown Writer of the Fifteenth Century, RS 41, 1865-68.
  4. ^ "Polychronicon Ranulphi Higden, Monachi Cestrensis; together with the English translation of John Trevisa, and of an unknown Writer of the Fifteenth Century edited by Rev. Joseph Rawson Lumby, Vol. III". The Athenaeum (2282): 108–109. 22 July 1871.
  5. ^ Ranulph Higden, Ars componendi sermones. Translated by Margaret Jennings and Sally A. Wilson. Introduction and Notes by Margaret Jennings (Dallas Medieval Texts and Translations 2). Louvain/Paris: Peeters, 2003. ISBN 978-90-429-1242-7.


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