Rishanger, William (DNB00)

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RISHANGER, WILLIAM (1250?–1312?), monk of St. Albans and chronicler, derived his name from the village of Rishangles, about four miles distant from Eye in Suffolk, where he is supposed to have been born. He was, by his own statement (given in facsimile from the autobiographical memorandum of MS. Bibl. Reg. 14 C. 1, as a frontispiece to Halliwell's Camden Soc. edit. of the Chron. de Bellis), a monk of forty-one years' standing, and sixty-two years of age, on 3 May 1312, so that he was probably born in 1250, and became a Benedictine at St. Albans Abbey in 1271. The date, 3 May, is more probably that of his ‘profession’ than of his birth. The zeal for composing chronicles which had so distinguished the St. Albans community in the days of Matthew Paris had almost died away in the generation of monks that succeeded the great historian. Rishanger rekindled the desire for historical composition. He describes himself as ‘cronigraphus’ or ‘cronicator,’ which probably means simply writer of chronicles, though it might well refer to the definite position of official abbey chronicler which Roger of Wendover [q. v.] and Matthew Paris [q. v.] had held in earlier times. But Bale and subsequent writers elevate this statement into the baseless theory that Rishanger was the salaried and official chronicler of Henry III, and even ‘historiographer royal.’ Bale, regardless of chronology, makes him the immediate successor of Matthew Paris as royal historian, though Matthew died in 1259, when Rishanger was only nine years old. The date of Rishanger's death is uncertain. If Rishanger wrote the chronicle (1259–1306) published as his by Henry Thomas Riley [q. v.] in the Rolls Series, it might be inferred that he was still alive in 1327, since he makes a reference to the death of Edward II (Chronica, p. 119, ed. Riley). But this would give him an age very rare in the thirteenth century, and it seems very much more likely that he died not long after he wrote the reference to himself in 1312.

The most important of Rishanger's writings, and the one most certainly assignable to his pen, is his ‘Narratio de Bellis apud Lewes et Evesham,’ which extends from 1258 to 1267, and gives, with a good deal of vigour, picturesque detail, and political insight, an excellent account of the barons' wars. It was written in Rishanger's old age. In one place he alludes to the siege of Stirling in 1304 (Chron. de Bellis, p. 25). The autobiographical passage already quoted shows it was not completed before 3 May 1312. The writer uses as sources the work of Matthew Paris, the ‘Liber Additamentorum,’ and the first Continuator of Matthew, 1260–64. There may be much in the part after 1264 which is taken from contemporary continuations now lost. But details like the character of Simon de Montfort (who is compared to Josiah, St. John the Baptist, and the apostles) may well come from Rishanger's youthful reminiscences, as well as his references to the condition of England and the domestic history of St. Albans. He is, however, so ardent a panegyrist of Simon that M. Bémont (Simon de Montfort, p. xi) describes the book as a hagiography. The work is extant in one manuscript only—now Cotton. MS. Claudius D. vi. ff. 97–114. The statement, ‘Incipiunt Chronica fratris Willelmi de Rishanger,’ and the autobiographical fragment already quoted, which forms part of the manuscript, are enough to establish conclusively Rishanger's authorship. The manuscript is written in a hand of the fourteenth century. It was elaborately if not very critically edited by James Orchard Halliwell-Phillipps [q. v.] for the Camden Society in 1840. The autobiographical fragment was long detached from Rishanger's ‘Narratio’ and pasted on to another manuscript (Bibl. MS. Reg. 14 C. i.), to make it appear that Rishanger was the compiler of the letter of Edward I to Boniface VIII in 1301 with regard to his claims to the Scottish crown. It was restored to its original place by Sir F. Madden.

Only one other work is certainly to be attributed to Rishanger. This is the short chronicle published by Riley in his Rolls Series volume of 1865 (pp. 411–23). The full title runs ‘Quædam Recapitulatio brevis de gestis domini Edwardi,’ to which is prefixed the rubric ‘Willelmi Rishanger Gesta Edwardi Primi Regis Angliæ.’ These annals are found in MS. Bibl. Reg. 14 C. i. and Cotton. MS. Claudius, D. vi. They have no great value, containing little special information. Dr. Liebermann (Mon. Germ. Hist. Script. xxviii. 512) accepts, with Riley, the authorship of Rishanger, on the authority of the manuscript attestation.

Besides this chronicle of the wars and the ‘Gesta Edwardi,’ Bale attributes five other historical works to Rishanger. But the only other book in his list which can claim to be written by Rishanger is the lengthy chronicle which forms the bulk of Riley's previously mentioned Rolls Series volume (pp. 1–230). This work is, in part at least, extant in several manuscripts. Of these MS. Bibl. Reg. 14 C. vii. (1259–1272), Cotton. MS. Claudius E. iii. (1259–1297), Cotton. MS. Faustina B. ix. (1259–1306) are the three oldest. The last of these is the fullest and is the main basis of Riley's text. Riley, while accepting on the faith of the manuscript title, ‘Willelmi Rishanger Monachi S. Albani Chronica,’ Rishanger's authorship of the earlier portion up to 1272, says that ‘the identity of the compiler of the chronicle, 1272–1306 … must of necessity be deemed an open question.’ There can be little doubt that Rishanger had no hand in this part of the work. It was not completed before 1327, and chronological considerations make it impossible that Rishanger was alive then. M. Bémont (Simon de Montfort, ix–xi) is of opinion, too, that Rishanger was not responsible for the early part of the chronicle. In its oldest manuscript (MS. Bibl. Reg. 14 C. vii.) Riley's chronicle is given as a continuation of Matthew Paris, and conceals the name of the compiler (RILEY, Introd. p. xxi). It is just possible that the Camden Society chronicle is an elaborated edition, with embellishments and amplifications of the more frigid and dry, but more precise and accurate, narrative edited by Riley.

[Willelmi Rishanger Chronica et Annales, ed. H. T. Riley (Rolls Ser.), with the editor's introduction, especially pp. ix–xvi; the Chronicle of William de Rishanger of the Barons' Wars, ed. J. O. Halliwell (Camden Soc.); Monumenta Germ. Hist., Scriptores, xxviii. 512–13; Bale's Scriptt. Brit. Cat. pp. 376–7; Tanner's Bibl. Brit.; Bémont's Simon de Montfort.]

T. F. T.