A Visual Overview
This page offers a summary of the Roll's content divided into fourteen sections. For higher definition images, please consult the Digital Edition.
Use the arrows at the top and bottom of each image to navigate between sections. For more information, select the "Read More" links. Names in bold appear on the central axis of the Roll; names in italics appear elsewhere on the manuscript.
Noah to Anchises
The Canterbury Roll begins with Noah's Ark (with a red rose superimposed upon it) and Noah's three 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, indicates the influence of antiquity on medieval minds.
Read more about the Classical influence
Aeneas to Sisillius
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 Cordelia.
Iago to Enniaunus
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 section includes kings such as Belinus (who allegedly invaded Germany and Italy), and Guithelin (who gave the Britons their first laws, the Marcian Laws).
Idwal 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 Cambrius (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. This information is also taken from Geoffrey's story of Britain.
Eldol to Carausius
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.
Cassibelaunus (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 roundel is embellished) is credited with introducing Christianity to Britain.
Allectus to the
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. Near the bottom of 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 Caretic, the last "British" king.
The green line on the far right represents the Welsh, including King Kadwaladrus.
Heptarchy to Alfred
According to the Roll, the Anglo-Saxon Heptarchy is united under one kingdom and one king: Egbert (signified with a closed crown).
In the last roundel at the bottom of this section appears Alfred the Great.
Edward (the Elder) to Æthelred
Edward the Elder became king of Wessex after the death of his father, Alfred the Great, in 899.
His son, Æthelstan, king of the West Saxons, is regarded by historians as the first ruler to control the whole of England.
To the left of the central axis a purple line begins with Rollo of Normandy (called Robert I on the Roll), whose descendant would become the first Norman King of England, William the Conqueror.
Edmund Ironside begins this section, followed by
Canut of Denmark and Harold Harefoot. After the death of Harthacnut (brother and heir to Harold), Danish rule over England ended.
Saint Edward the Confessor – whose name is rubricated and whose roundel is embellished – 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.
William the Conqueror to John
William the Conqueror (top) established Norman rule in England, and was succeeded by his sons William II and Henry I.
In this section the Roll notably downplays a civil war over succession in the 12th century: The Empress Matilda was Henry I's lawful heir but William the Conqueror's grandson, Stephen, seized the throne. Matilda was never crowned queen, and is not listed on the central axis as one of England's rulers. Matilda's son, Henry II Plantagenet, succeeded Stephen.
Henry III to
This section 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 roundels, the contemporary rulers of France. A blue line connects with the central axis to highlight the marriage of Isabella of France to Edward II. Their son, Edward III, would use this connection to lay claim to the French Crown. Read more
Edward III to
Edward III (with thirteen "offspring" roundels) is succeeded by his grandson, Richard II.
The subsequent king, Henry IV, established the House of Lancaster. His son, Henry V, responsible for the English victory at Agincourt, appears in a roundel embellished with floral decoration.
The Yorkist Scribe began to make additions to the Roll at this point. Note the change of hand on both sides of the central axis.
Henry VI to
Henry VI (top) appears to have been added by the Yorkist Scribe as an afterthought – he appears slightly to the left of the central axis.
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 extended the original version of the Roll, positioning Edward IV of York as the final successor to the kings of England.