Fordun, John (DNB00)

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search


FORDUN, JOHN (d. 1384?), is the writer upon whom Walter Bower [q. v.] based the earlier part of his great work, the 'Scotichronicon.' At the end of his chronicle Walter Bower claims for himself books vi-xvi., while to his predecessor he allows books i-v. (Scotichron. i. 1, ii. 513). Fordun wrote fifteen of the first twenty-three chapters of book vi. also (ib. i. 338), and the rest of Bower's work down to 1383 is very largely based upon Fordun's notes (Prolog. Scotichron. i. 1). Even in the first five books of the 'Scotichronicon ' there are, however, many passages [see Bower, Walter] interpolated by Bower.

The prefaces to the later redactions of the 'Scotichronicon' are our only authority for Fordun's life. He only once intimates his name by an acrostic (Fordun, p. 3 ; Scotichron. i. 3). The important manuscript of the 'Scotichronicon' in the British Museum (Royal Library, 13 EX), commonly known as the 'Black Book of Paisley' (a fifteenth-century manuscript), calls John de Fordun 'capellanus ecclesiæ Aberdonensis,' while the 'prologue' to the 'Scotichronicon' styles him 'dominus Joannes Fordoun, presbyter' (Skene, pref. p. xvii; Murray, pp. 2, 15). From these indications Mr. Skene has inferred that he was a 'chantrey priest' in the cathedral at Aberdeen (p. xiv). From the preface to another manuscript we learn that Edward 'Langschankes,' the tyrant, had carried off to England or burnt all the truly national records of the Scotch history. After their loss, 'a certain venerable' priest, Lord John Fordon, desired to repair the loss, and, after collecting in his own country, wandered like a 'curious bee' with his manuscript ('Codex Sinualis') in his breast, 'in prato Britanniæ et in oraculis Hiberniæ, per civitates et oppida, per universitates et collegia, per ecclesias et cœnobia, inter historicos conversans et inter chronographos perendinans' (Pref. to Book of Cupar ; the Dublin MS. of Scotichron. ap. Skene, pp. 49, 50). This journey in quest of materials is calculated, from internal evidence, to have taken place between 1363 and 1384. In the prologue to the 'Scotichronicon' Bower tells us of a conversation in which a certain venerable doctor remarked that he could very well recollect this writer of whom the company made so much : 'He was an unlearned man (homo simplex), and not a graduate of any school' (Scotichron. i. 1). Mr. Murray suggests that the John Fordun whose name appears in the 'Exchequer Rolls of Scotland' as making certain payments on behalf of the burgesses of Perth in 1393-5 was the historian (Murray, pp. 2, 3; cf. Exchequer Rolls of Scotland, iii. 366). He also remarks that Fordun must have been the friend of Walter Wardlaw, the bishop of Glasgow and legatus a latere in Scotland, and, if a chantry-priest of Aberdeen, must likewise have known John Barbour [q. v.] (Murray, pp. 2, 3 ; cf. Fordun, bk. v. c. 50). Fordun probably died soon after 1384, the year in which his annals end.

Fordun's writings, as now preserved, consist of : 1. 'Chronica Gentis Scotorum.' 2. 'Gesta Annalia.' Some manuscripts also include certain 'materials.' Of these materials a great part has been worked up into the later books of his 'Chronica;' the rest consist of documents relating to the 'controversy with England as to the independence of Scotland.' These 'Independence' documents appear in book vi. of the 'Chronica' as contained in the Wolfenbüttel MS., and before the 'Gesta Annalia.' In the Trinity Coll. Cambridge MS. they are found in the middle of the 'Gesta Annalia' at the year 1284. Of the 'Chronica Gentis Scotorum,' book i. is almost entirely mythical ; book ii. continues the story of the Scots from their first king in Great Britain, Fergus, to the days of Maximus and Theodosius (c. 395 A.D.); book iii. extends to the days of Charles the Great (c. 814 A.D.); book iv. down to the reign of Macbeth (1057 A.D.); book v. from Malcolm Canmore's accession to the death of King David (1153 A.D.) The last eighteen chapters of this book are made up of extracts from Abbot Baldred or Ailred of Rievaulx, 'Lamentatio pro morte regis David.' At this point the 'Gesta Annalia' take up the narrative, and continue it from the accession of Malcolm IV (1153 A.D.) down to 1383 A.D. The historical chapters of book vi. (i.e. cc. 9-23) are a sketch of English history from Cerdic, or rather Woden, down to the death of Edward the Confessor.

From Mr. Skene's careful analyses of the extant manuscripts of these works it appears that Fordun compiled the materials for book v. and the still extant part of book vi. before his journey into England; for the additions which these books in their later form contain 'are frequently taken from William of Malmesbury, while in the materials there is no allusion to that writer.' Of the 'Gesta Annalia' there also seem to be two texts, the earlier one of which (represented by Cotton Vitellius MS. E. xi., a sixteenth-century manuscript, and Trinity Coll. Dublin MS. E. 2, 28, a sixteenth- or seventeenth-century manuscript) was plainly drawn up in 1363, for the list of English kings in chapter 80 ends with 'Edwardus tertius qui nunc est,' and the history of events breaks off with the year 1363. On the other hand, the Wolfenbüttel MS. (fourteenth century) carries on the narrative to 1383, and, after recording the Black Prince's death, winds up the list of English kings with 'Edwardus princeps genuit Ricardum qui nunc est' (Skene, pref. pp. xxxii-iii; cf. Fordun, pp. 319, 382, 383). It was apparently after his journey into England that Fordun compiled the first four books, and brought the 'Gesta Annalia' down to 1384 or 1385.

Fordun's authorities are collected by Mr. Skene at the end of the second volume of his edition. He was an historian of no great discernment when dealing with early times, but becomes more valuable the nearer he gets to his own days. There can be little doubt that he made use of Irish materials in his work.

[Johannis de Fordun, Chronica Gentis Scotorum, vols. i. and ii. ed. Skene, for the Historians of Scotland (Edinburgh, 1871-2) ; Johannis de Fordun, Scotichronicon, ed. Hearne, 5 vols. (Oxford, 1722) ; Gale's Scriptores, vol. iii. ; Bower's Scotichronicon, ed. Goodall (Edinburgh, 1759). All the references to Fordun are to Skene's edition; those to the Scotichronicon to Goodall's Notes on the Black Book of Paisley (New Club Series) by David Murray (Paisley, 1885); Die Handschriften der herzoglichen Bibliothek zu Wolfenbüttel (Otto von Heinemann, Wolfenbüttel, 1886), vol. i. pt. ii. p. 26. Mr. Skene's preface to the first volume of his Fordun contains a precise account of the various manuscripts of Fordun and Bower ; he has here collected everything that can be said about his author's life and work.]

T. A. A.