Why Ranulf Higden?

Ranulf Higden these days may sound an odd choice to choose to name a society after. Indeed most people will not have heard of him. However, in medieval England his name would have been very well known.

Higden was a monk of the Benedictine Abbey of St Werburgh, Chester from c. 1299-1364. He seems to have never left the abbey except on a very well known occasion, and was probably educated in the abbey, rather than having attended university. However, his education must have been of a high standard for he published three major works – the Polychronicon, the Ars componendi sermones, and the Speculum curatorum – as well as a number of other more minor works. Of these, the latter two are liturgical texts, but the Polychronicon is a very different matter. The Polychronicon is a serious and substantial piece of scholarship written in Latin, and is a clear and original account of World History. It displayed a new interest in antiquity, and integrated this into an early history of Britain.

The Polychronicon first appeared in a short version in 1327, and then in intermediate and long recensions dating to 1340-64, and it would seem from annotations to Higden’s own manuscript, that he was continuing to revise his work up until his death. The work proved to be a great success, and today there are still 147 extant manuscripts. The work was considered to be so important that even King Edward III of England wished to consult Higden on historical matters:

‘Father Ralph, a monk of the abbey at Chester, is summoned to Westminster on 21 August 1352 ‘with all your chronicles, and those which are in your charge to speak and take advice with our council on certain matters which will be explained to you on our behalf.’’

Calendar of Close Rolls, 1349-54, p. 499.

So why is our society named after Higden? Well, for a number of reasons. The Society is based in northwest England, and Higden is clearly located in the region. The Society works on medieval records, so who better than Higden to be associated with the Society and its work. And finally, the Society’s membership is made up of people drawn from all kinds of backgrounds, many of whom have developed skills in Latin and palaeography outside of a university context, and since we can find no trace that Hidgen ever attended a university, whilst maintaining a high level of scholarship in his work, the parallels were too significant to be ignored.

For further information about Ranulf Higden, see his biography by John Taylor in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Taylor, J.  (2004, September 23). Higden, Ranulf (d. 1364), Benedictine monk and chronicler. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Ed.   Retrieved 4 Apr. 2019, from http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/10.1093/ref:odnb/9780198614128.001.0001/odnb-9780198614128-e-13225.).