Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Westminster, Matthew

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WESTMINSTER, MATTHEW, is an imaginary name given to a supposed author of a chronicle called ‘Flores Historiarum;’ it is affixed to a manuscript of the ‘Flores,’ probably written early in the fifteenth century for Henry le Despenser [q. v.], bishop of Norwich, and now in the British Museum, Cottonian MS. Claud. E. 8 ff. 14–236, which begins ‘Incipit prologus in librum qui Flores Historiarum intitulatur, secundum Mathæum Monachum Westmonasteriensem.’ As early as 1826 Sir Francis Palgrave described Westminster as ‘a phantom who never existed’ (Quarterly Review, 1826, xxxiv. i. 250). Sir T. D. Hardy, in the introduction to ‘Monumenta Historica Britannica,’ 1848, p. 7, spoke of him as ‘a supposed person,’ but wrote somewhat uncertainly. Sir F. Madden in the preface to his edition of Matthew Paris's ‘Historia Anglorum’ (1866, vol. i. pp. xxi sq.) pointed out that the name Matthew Westminster was fictitious, Westminster being taken from the abbey to which the ‘Flores’ belonged, and Matthew being borrowed from Matthew Paris, whom he erroneously believed to have been the author of the earlier part of the chronicle, and the actual transcriber of the earliest manuscript of it. Nevertheless, Hardy in his ‘Descriptive Catalogue of Manuscripts’ (1871, iii. 313 sq.) was unwilling to allow that there was no such person as Westminster; and Luard in his edition of the ‘Chronica Majora’ (1872, i. pref. xxi n.) was unable to reject the claim made for ‘Matthew, a monk of Westminster,’ to the authorship of the ‘Flores.’ Luard, however, in his edition of the ‘Flores,’ prefaces to vols. i. and iii. 1890, finally settled the question, proving by a masterly exposition of the history of the book and the character and composition of each portion of it, that Matthew Westminster was an imaginary name given to a person that never existed, and that the ‘Flores’ was partly compiled and partly composed by various writers at St. Albans and Westminster.

The ‘Flores’ was first printed by Archbishop Parker, as the work of Matthew Westminster, in 1567, from a manuscript written at Merton early in the fourteenth century, and now belonging to Eton College, except an addition for 1307, which is taken from Trivet's ‘Annales;’ this edition is fairly faithful. Parker, having meanwhile become acquainted with some other manuscripts of the ‘Flores’ and with Matthew Paris's ‘Chronica Majora,’ put out a second edition in 1570, in which he made insertions from other books, and specially from the work of Paris. The edition published at Frankfort in 1601 is a reprint of that of 1570. Luard's edition of the ‘Flores’ in ‘Chronicles and Memorials of Great Britain,’ 1890, 3 vols., is founded chiefly on the earliest manuscript of the work, the Chetham MS. (Manchester) 6712, collated with that belonging to Eton, and gives the whole work, which ends at 1325, the earlier editions ending with 1307. He accordingly printed for the first time the part from 1307 to 1325, written by Robert of Reading, a monk of Westminster, who died in 1325, an original and contemporary authority for the reign of Edward II.

[Flores Hist. ed. Luard; Chron. Maj. ed. Luard; Hist. Anglorum, ed. Madden; Hardy Cat. of MSS. (all Rolls Ser.).]

W. H.