The Canterbury Roll

Christchurch, University of Canterbury, MS 1

Date: Between 1422-1483 (approx.)
Origin: England

Width: 33.4 cm
Total Length: 489 cm

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First section of the Canterbury Roll: Noah and the legendary kings of early Britian.

The Canterbury Roll is currently held at the Macmillan Brown Library.

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The Canterbury Roll

The Canterbury Roll is a genealogical roll of the kings of England from Noah to Edward IV, which has formed part of the holdings of the University of Canterbury Library since 1918.

It is a fascinating blend of myth, tradition and history that follows the ‘succession’ of English kings on the almost five-metre long parchment roll. Made from six pieces of parchment, the central and main line of descent is marked in red down the length of the Roll.

The diagram is accompanied by a commentary on either side of the central axis. It is relatively undecorated and unembellished. The anonymous scribe probably began the Roll in around 1429 and all its modifications and revisions were completed by the 1480s. The story of the Canterbury Roll from 1483 until the early 20th century (when it re-emerged in New Zealand) is a mystery.

In 1918, Canterbury College purchased the Roll from the Maude Family. Since its purchase by the College, research related directly to the Canterbury Roll (or the ‘Maude Roll' as it was once known) has been sporadic and limited. In 1919, an edition with an English translation by Arnold Wall (a professor of English at Canterbury College) was published:   

Arnold Wall's 1919 edition

The first serious academic consideration of the Roll began in the 1970s in the course of Professor Ralph A. Griffiths' research into Lancastrian propaganda. Serendipity took Professor Griffiths to the copy of Wall’s edition held in the Institute of Historical Research, London. The next academic mention of the Roll was in a footnote in an article published by his doctoral student, Alison Allan, in 1979. Interest in the manuscript has revived recently as New Zealand scholars are increasingly concerned with the significance of colonial connections between New Zealand and the ‘Old World’.    

The Project

This website was produced as part of a UC Summer Scholarship Research Project, which aims to introduce the Canterbury Roll to a wider local and international audience. It provides an introductory analysis of the Roll, as well as a brief examination of the social and political context of the medieval world that produced this unique document.

This manuscript has been inaccessible to those outside of New Zealand since at least 1918. There are numerous medieval genealogical rolls in Europe and North America - however, the Canterbury Roll is unique as it is the only one of its kind known in the Southern Hemisphere.

By establishing an online presence for the Roll, this website aims to provide a high quality digital archive of the manuscript that will allow an international public to view and make use of this unique treasure. The Canterbury Roll has been photographed to an archival standard in an effort to aid its preservation and to ensure the best viewing experience.