The Canterbury Roll - A Photographic Study

The entire Canterbury Roll is available for viewing in 14 parts. Use the arrows to navigate up or down the scroll.

Please click on each section to open a high resolution image in a new window. For more information, click the 'Read More' links. Names in bold appear on the central axis of the roll; names in italics appear elsewhere on the manuscript.

Section 1

Noah to Anchises

The Canterbury Roll begins with Noah's Ark (with a red rose superimposed upon it) and Noah's 3 sons, Shem, Japhet, and Ham. It recounts the foundation story of early Britain and its legendary kings.

The insertion of classical gods, such as Jupiter and Saturn (further down this section), indicates the influence of antiquity on medieval minds.

Read more about the Classical influence (opens in new window)


Aeneas to Sisill

At the top of this section, we find Aeneas, Ascanius, and Silvius on the central axis.

They are followed by Brutus (above whom appears a crown). According to one founding myth of Britain, Brutus (a Trojan refugee) wanders to 'Albion' and renames it 'Britannia' after himself.

The legendary kings that follow include King Lear (immortalised by Shakespeare) and his daughters: Gonarilla, Regan, and Cordella.



Jago to Eynaun

A significant part of the Canterbury Roll details legendary kings of Britain. Their accounts are largely derived from Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia Regnum Britanniae, and have little historical basis.

Nonetheless, such stories had become the accepted account of early British history by the 15th century.

This sections includes kings such as Belin (who apparently invaded Germany and Italy), and Guthelin (who gave the Britons their 1st laws, the Marcian Laws).


Idwall to Bledgabred

The Roll continues the mythical kings listed by Geoffrey of Monmouth in this section.

To the right of the central red axis, there is a green line representing Cambria (Wales). This line starts with Kamber (one of Brutus' sons and a descendant of Aeneas of Troy). This 'Welsh' line continues down the right side of the roll until the reign of Edward I (slide 12). This information is also taken from Geoffrey's story of Britain.


Eldol to Carautiuss

The legendary kings continue: Geoffrey of Monmouth - and the Roll's commentary - note that the name 'London' is derived from King Lud, who built Ludgate in the city.

Cassibelian (centre of the trio, middle of section) is a real historical figure. He appears in Julius Caesar's Commentaries on the Gallic War, where he surrenders to Caesar and pays tribute to Rome.

King Lucius (whose circle is embellished here) is credited with introducing Christianity to Britain.


Allectus to the
Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms

This section links the mythical kings of early Britain with the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms. The green line on the left stops at the Saxon god Woden, before splitting off into these kingdoms.

The central red axis continues to recount the descent of the legendary kings. 3/4 down the central axis, we find characters whose stories remain familiar to us today: Uther Pendragon and King Arthur.



The 7 Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms

Left to right: the kings of Kent, East Anglia, Northumbria, Essex, Wessex, Mercia, and Sussex.

The thicker red axis ends with Careticus, the last 'British' king.

The green line on the far right represents the Welsh, including King Cadwallader.


Heptarchy to Egbert

According to the Roll, the Anglo-Saxon Heptarchy is united under one kingdom and one king: Egbert (signified with a crown).
In the last circle at the bottom of this section is Alfred the Great.


Edward (the Elder) to Ethelred

Edward the Elder became king of Wessex after the death of his father, Alfred the Great, in 899.

His son, Athelstan, king of the West Saxons, is commonly regarded as the first ruler to control the whole of England.

To the left of the central axis a purple line begins with Rollo (Robert I) of Normandy, whose descendant would become the 1st Norman King of England, William the Conqueror (Slide 11).


Edmund Ironside
to Harold

Edmund Ironside begins this section, followed by Canute of Denmark and Harold Harefoot. After the death of Harthacnut (brother and heir of Harold), Danish rule over England ended.

St Edward the Confessor (highlighted in red letters with embellishments around his circle) restored the rule of the House of Wessex.

His successor, Harold, was killed at the Battle of Hastings fighting the Norman invaders led by William the Conqueror (next slide).


William the Conqueror to John

William the Conqueror (top) established the House of Normandy, and was succeeded by William II and Henry I.

In this segment the Roll notably downplays another civil war over succession in the 12th c.: The Empress Matilda was Henry I's heir, until Stephen seized the throne. Matilda was never crowned queen, and is not listed here.

Matilda's son, Henry II Plantagenet, succeeded Stephen.


Henry III to
Edward II

This segment begins with Richard the Lionheart's nephew, Henry III. Henry was succeded by his son Edward I and grandson, Edward II.

To the left of the central axis we find a seperate cluster of circles: the contemporary rulers of France. A blue line connects with the central axis indicating the marriage of Isabella of France to Edward II. Their son and the next king, Edward III, would use this connection to lay claim to the French Crown. Read more...


Edward III to
Henry IV

Edward III (with 13 'offspring' circles) is succeeded by his grandson, Richard II.

The next king is Henry IV, who established the House of Lancaster. His son, Henry V is denoted with rose petals at bottom of this section).

A Yorkist scribe began to 'edit' the roll at the top of this section by making additions to the left of the central axis.



Henry VI to
Edward IV

Henry VI ( at the top) appears to have been added as an afterthought - he is not on the central axis, but appears slightly to the left of it.

Aligned to the right of the axis, parallel with where the roll was originally intended to end, are the Neville brothers, Richard and Robert.



The Yorkist scribe extends the original version of the roll, positioning Edward IV of York as the final successor to the kings of England.

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