Higden, Ranulf (DNB00)

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HIGDEN, RANULF (d. 1364), chronicler, was a Benedictine monk at St. Werburg's, Chester. Beyond this nothing is known of his personal history, except that he was born in the west of England and took monastic vows at Chester in 1299. He appears to have visited various parts of England, and especially Shropshire, Derbyshire, and Lancashire. He died 12 March 1363–4, and was buried at St. Werburg's (Laud. MS. 619). His name is variously given as Higden, Hydon, Hygden, Hikeden, &c., and his christian name as Ranulphus or Radulphus, Ranulf, Ralph, or Randle; the first is his own spelling. Higden has been identified with the Randle Higgenet who has been alleged to be the author of the well-known Chester plays, but there is no trustworthy evidence as to the name of their author, and his identification with Higden is out of the question (Warton, Hist. Engl. Poetry, ii. 224, ed. Hazlitt).

Higden's fame rests on his ‘Polychronicon.’ This is a universal history down to his own times, and is so called ‘quia præsens chronica multorum temporum continet gesta.’ Only a part of the last of the seven books into which it is divided is strictly contemporary, and even then the work is of no great value as an original authority. The ‘Polychronicon’ owes its interest to the light which it throws on the historical, geographical, and scientific knowledge of the age. It was the most exhaustive history that had yet appeared, and it enjoyed great popularity for nearly two centuries. There are said to be over a hundred manuscripts extant (many of them are described in the prefaces in the edition in the Rolls Series). There are also two English versions, one made in 1387 by John Trevisa [q. v.] and the other early in the following century. The former was printed by Caxton in 1482, by Wynkyn de Worde in 1495, and Peter Treveris in 1527. The latter is printed for the first time in the Rolls Series. Knighton and the author of the ‘Eulogium Historiarum’ borrowed largely from Higden. Many manuscripts of the ‘Polychronicon’ end at 1327, and it seems probable that there was a first edition terminating with that year (cf. Knighton, 2311, 2550); the later portion down to 1342 is Higden's own work, but the continuations from that date are by other hands. Roger of Chester [q. v.] and his ‘Polycratica’ are almost beyond question identical with Higden and the ‘Polychronicon.’ An epitome of the ‘Polychronicon’ was printed by Caxton in 1480, and that part of it which relates to British history was printed in Gale's ‘Scriptores Quindecim,’ i. 179–287; the whole work has recently appeared in the Rolls Series in nine volumes, together with the ‘Continuation’ of John Malverne and the two English translations.

Higden's other works are:

  1. ‘Speculum Curatorum,’ Ball. Coll. Oxon. MS. 69, and Cambridge Univ. Lib. Mm. i. 20; this work was composed in 1340.
  2. ‘Ars componendi Sermones,’ MS. Bodley 316 in the Bodleian Library.
  3. ‘Pædagogicon Grammatices,’ manuscript said to be at Sion College.
  4. ‘Distinctiones Theologicæ,’ MS. Lambeth 23.
  5. ‘Abbreviationes Chronicorum;’ this is probably the ‘Cronica bona et compendiosa de Regibus Angliæ tantum, a Noe usque in hunc diem’ (a.d. 1300), which is ascribed to Higden in Cott. MS. Tib. E. viii. f. 210, and of which two other copies are preserved at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge (MS. No. 21), coming down to 1367, and at Winchester College reaching to 1377. Another possible theory is that this is the work of John Rochefort, who wrote a compendium of the ‘Polychronicon’ about 1400. Bale also, somewhat improbably, attributes to Higden:
  6. ‘Expositio super Job.’
  7. ‘In Cantica Canticorum.’
  8. ‘Sermones per annum.’
  9. ‘Determinationes sub compendio.’
  10. ‘In litteram calendarii.’

The ‘Mappa Mundi’ assigned to him by Bale is only the first book of the ‘Polychronicon,’ which is chiefly geographical in character; the treatises ‘Ex Gulielmo Stephanide’ (Bale) and ‘Ex Stephano Langton’ (Tanner) are also merely extracts from the larger work.

[Bale, vi. 12; Leland's Collect. ii. 368; Tanner's Bibl. Brit.-Hib. p. 403; Macray's Cat. Brit. Hist.; Hardy's Descriptive Cat. Brit. Hist. vol. iii.; prefaces by Drs. Babington and Lumby in Rolls Series edition of the Polychronicon; Gairdner's Early Chroniclers of England, pp. 274–279.]

C. L. K.