Yorkist Revision

Regardless of the original purpose of the Canterbury Roll, it was transformed after 1461 from a pro-Lancastrian document into Yorkist propaganda.

In 1461, Edward of York seized the throne becoming Edward IV of England. Subsequently, the Canterbury Roll underwent drastic changes. During the period 1463 to 1468, a Yorkist supporter found the Canterbury Roll and decided to modify it to present the Yorkists, not the Lancastrians, as the true heirs to the English Crown.

The Yorkist scribe extends the original genealogy down the left side of the roll in red.

Yorkist amendments

The Yorkist scribe who worked on the ‘corrections’ was ambitious – a fact testified to by the extensive red (and messy) modifications visible in the final section of the roll (see the image to the right).

The additions are most obvious down the left hand side of the Roll. The Yorkist scribe uses only red and black ink. He takes noticeably less care with his amendments than the original scribe took in preparing his neatly measured circles and straight lines.

In order to make sense of the Yorkist claim, the new scribe inserts the Mortimers of March (another family with close links to the Yorkists), visible in the upper left of this image. The Mortimers and their royal marriages help explain Edward IV's maternal ancestry.

All the uneven red lines culminate in the last rose at the bottom, with the name of the first Yorkist king: ‘EDWARDUM QUARTUM’ (Edward IV).

In addition to adding to the diagram itself, the Yorkist scribe also contributed his own commentary to explain his changes. Below are some selections of his handiwork:

Squeezed in between the original commentary, the revisonist scribe identifies Henry IV of Lancaster (also known as Henry of Derby) as the cause of the succession crisis in this paragraph:


Referring to Henry IV (left of this image), this paragraph denounces the Lancastrian succession.


Translation (from Arnold Wall, The Handbook to the Maude Roll, [1919]):

This Henry of Derby, son of Gaunt, imprisoned Richard, the true king of England and the true heir of France, and deposed him by violence and caused himself to be accepted and named King Henry IV, and thus he and his heirs usurped and occupied the aforementioned Crowns wrongfully and became their possessors in bad faith.

In one sentence, the Yorkist scribe invalidates the entire reigns of Henry IV, V, and VI.


Translation (from Arnold Wall, The Handbook to the Maude Roll [1919]):

This line, which is red and positioned in the middle, is unjust because he who is named Henry the Sixth, and his ancestors, known as Henry the Fourth and Henry the Fifth, unjustly and violently took it upon themselves and occupied the crown and kingdom of the Kings of England and France

At the bottom of the amended version, the Canterbury Roll ends with:

Edward IV and his siblings: Anne - Elizabeth - Margaret - EDWARD IV - Edmund - George - Richard


Why was the Yorkist supporter satisfied with a ‘quick edit’ of an existing roll? Why did they not simply commission a new roll? This is one of the many unknowable mysteries of the Canterbury Roll. What is observable, however, is the flexibility of 'history' as described by genealogical rolls. The Canterbury Roll captures the impact political circumstances could have on the writing and re-writing of history in later medieval England.

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