Catholic Encyclopedia (1913)/Rolls Series
A collection of historical materials of which the general scope is indicated by its official title, "The Chronicles and Memorials of Great Britain and Ireland during the Middle Ages". 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 (the official Custodian of the Records of the Court of Chancery and of the other Courts), then Sir John Romilly. A previous undertaking of the same kind, the "Monumenta Histories Britannica", had come to grief after the publication of the first volume (1036 folio pages, London, 1848) owing partly to the death of the principal editor, Henry Petrie, partly to its cumbrous form and other causes. Strong representations were, however, made by a very earnest worker in the field of historical research, Rev. Joseph Stevenson (q.v.), 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. In accordance with this scheme 255 volumes, representing 99 separate works, have now been published. With the exception of the series of legal records known as the "Year Books" of Edward I and Edward III, the further issue of these materials has for some time past been suspended. Almost all the great medieval English chronicles have in turn been included, for it was found that most of the existing editions published by the scholars of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were unsatisfactory. It would be impossible here to give a catalogue of the materials edited in the course of this great undertaking. It must be sufficient to mention the magnificent edition of the "Chronica Majora" of Matthew Paris by Luard; the Hoveden, Benedict of Peterborough, Ralph de Diceto, Walter of Coventry, and others, all edited by Bishop Stubbs; the works of Giraldus Cambrensis by Brewer, and the "Materials for the History of St. Thomas Becket" by Canon Robertson. But the scope of the Series is by no means limited to the ordinary English Chroniclers. Legal records and tractates, such as the "Year Books", the "Black Book of the Admiralty", and Bracton's great work "De Legibus et Consuetudinibus Angliaeö; 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 Vigfusson and Dasent; rhymed chronicles like those of Robert of Gloucester and Robert of Brunne in English, and that of Pierre de Langtoft in French; even quasi-philosophical works like those of Friar Roger Bacon and Alexander Neckam, together with folklore materials like the three volumes of "Leechdoms, Worteunning and Starcraft" of Anglo-Saxon times, have all been included in the Series. It need hardly be said that 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 thus edited are in Latin, and these are printed without translation. Those in old French, Anglo-Saxon, Irish, Gaelic, Welsh, old Norse, etc. always 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, but a general account is also given in Gross, The Sources and Literature of English History (New York, 1900); Potthast, Bibliotheca Historieca (Berlin, 1896).