And that’s how we roll…

Genealogical rolls showing the direct descent of English kings from Adam were a major (and blatant) propaganda tool during the Wars of the Roses in later fifteenth-century England. The BiblioPhilly libraries have three from the reign of Edward IV, each very fine — but this one from Lehigh University has an intriguing nineteenth-century housing that makes it especially remarkable.

The Lehigh roll is based on the text of a roll that Roger of St. Albans presented to Henry VI, with continuation into the reign of Edward IV. The survival of considerable numbers of the these rolls suggests, as Alison Allan notes, that “they were the work of a small group of craftsmen,”[1] and that their production was deliberately planned to support the usurpation of the young Yorkist king. They show his superior hereditary claim and hint that his accession was divinely foreordained.

The glass-fronted wood housing with rollers and external knobs for this particular roll is an artifact in and of itself, and the question of how to photograph the roll without destroying its  enclosure has been the subject of a great deal of discussion. If removal of the roll from the case is impossible, as seems increasingly likely, the imaging team will explore photographing portions of the roll and digitally stitching it together.

In the meantime, enjoy this video of principal investigator Lois Fischer Black carefully turning the handles to get a full view of the roll.

Lehigh University Ms 8

Roger of St. Albans. Geneaological Roll, in Latin. 15th-century manuscript on a vellum roll 20 feet 5 inches x 12 inches (612.8 x 30 cm.), written in England. Bears the 16th-century inscription “liber Robert Ohlund (?) de Stondlley (?).” Acquired by Lehigh in 1955, the gift of Mr. Robert B. Honeyman, Jr. Chronicle from the time of Adam to the reign of Edward IV.  A high-resolution digitization of this image will be prepared as part of the Bibliotheca Philadelphiensis project.

[1] Alison Allan, “Yorkist propaganda: Pedigree, prophecy and the ‘British History’ in the Reign of Edward IV.” C. D. Ross, ed., Patronage, Pedigree and Power in Later Medieval England, Alan Sutton, Rowman & Littlefield, 1979.