Biblical Foundations

The Canterbury Roll starts with Noah and his three sons, as seen in the image below. This signifies the biblical foundations of the medieval world, and the conceptualization of English kingship within a Christian framework. Furthermore, this implied that kings obtain their prestige and authority from God (through Noah in this case). The Roll draws attention to the ultimate "roots" of royal power. This helps establish the legitimacy of contemporary English rulers.

Noah

Noah, represented by the ark (CRN001) and his 3 sons, Shem (CRN002), Japhet (CRN006), & Ham (CRN003)


History writing in the Middle Ages was viewed in relation to God’s purpose for mankind. This meant that the past started with the Creation and moved towards the Last Judgement. Conveniently, this view aligned itself with the linear graphic representation of genealogies.

The format is limiting in many ways - it does not, for example, lend itself to expressing complex or abstract ideas and relies on using kingship as the driving factor to demonstrate chronological progression. Yet, the mapping of time and space on a genealogical roll can also be a way of conveying "universal" history.

The choice of Noah as the starting point makes the Canterbury Roll one of the "Noah Group" of "Long Latin" genealogical rolls, as categorized by Alison Allan. She identifies several groups of genealogical rolls, and divides them according to where they begin and what language they use. This categorization is useful to identify similar genealogies from medieval England.

From this biblical framework, the Roll moves on to the history and genealogy of the kings of England. The chronology and genealogical history expressed is not original, but it reflects contemporary late medieval conceptions of early Britain. A fantastical lineage of legendary figures from antiquity and pre-Saxon Britain provides mythical legitimacy to 15th-century rulers of England.

MSH