This is a methodical and clearly written study of the portrayal in the English chronicles of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries of the Welsh revolutionary leader Owain Glyndwr, his rebellion against Henry IV in the first decade of the fifteenth century, and perceptions of the Welsh and of Wales. The guiding methodology is narratology—the different ways in which chroniclers tell their stories, describe events, portray individuals and paint in the scenery. This involves the close reading of between fifteen and twenty sources, about half of them contemporary and the others ranging in date up to Holinshed in the late sixteenth century. Shakespeare is occasionally referred to but deliberately omitted, since that would have entailed the writing of a different sort of book. Several of the chronicles discussed were dependent on each other, which involves a good deal of repetition and more of a historiographical than a historical approach to evidence. After an Introduction which explains, with admirable clarity, the methodology of the investigation, Part 1 comprises three chapters: ‘The Role of the Narrator’, ‘Chronological Structure and Representations of Time’, and ‘Spatial Structure and Representations of Space’. The first examines the ways in which chroniclers/narrators use different modes of narration (‘narrative voices’) and include, slant or omit information in order to shape their narratives to their own viewpoints. The second looks at ‘temporal markers’, in the form of analepsis, prolepsis, telescoping of events and/or narrative closure (or the lack of it) to achieve a variety of effects, such as the contextualisation or otherwise of Glyndwr’s revolt within a tradition of Welsh rebellion or the open-ended puzzle of his death/survival. Whether chroniclers deliberately falsified chronology is questionable, but many other options were available to them to make their points. The ‘spatial structure’ of chronicles was similarly amenable to narrative negotiation, most obviously in emphasising the ‘alterity’ of Wales, a periphery to England’s core, a land of mountains and swamps which lacked the civilising influence of urbanisation or, by implication, the English. These ideas are further explored in Part 2 of the book, which again contains three chapters: ‘Imagining Individuals’, ‘Imagining the Welsh’ and ‘Imagining Wales’. Whereas in Part 1 the evidence discussed ranges widely, including, for example, analysis of chronicle accounts of the great comet of 1402 or medieval Mappae Mundi, Part 2 focuses closely on Glyndwr and his revolt. Interesting as the evidence is, occasionally there is a sense that a trick has been missed. For example, Marchant shows that some of the English chroniclers introduced Owain to their narratives simply through his Welsh genealogy, whereas others emphasised his English connections—that he had studied law in England, served as an esquire to the earl of Arundel, perhaps even served Richard or Henry IV—but does not really explain what the ‘narrative strategy’ was behind this. The answer, presumably, was that they wished to show that he was not just a rebel but also a traitor, as Henry IV never ceased to insist. Adam Usk, on the other hand, who is rightly recognised by Marchant as different from the others on account of his Welsh birth and sympathies, places more emphasis on the links between Glyndwr and earlier Welsh heroes. It would have been interesting in this context to have heard more about how Welsh chroniclers of the revolt, used to such good effect by J.E. Lloyd nearly a century ago and more recently by R.R. Davies, might serve as a benchmark by which to judge Usk’s divided allegiance. This is a very useful book, the application in a clear and careful way of a methodology that can tell us much about how medieval chroniclers approached their task. Marchant is keen to rescue the medieval chronicle from the disparagement to which it was subjected in the early modern period and to some extent still is, and she succeeds in showing that some chroniclers at least were thoughtful narrators capable of shaping a story to deliver a message in ways that would appeal to their readers at different levels. For students of Owain Glyndwr, of late medieval Wales and of historical writing in the Middle Ages, this represents an important study which has implications beyond its immediate subject. © Oxford University Press 2017. All rights reserved.
The English Historical Review – Oxford University Press
Published: Feb 21, 2017
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