Arguing with the Chronicle’s narrative

Schedel, Hartmann. Liber Chronicarum (Nuremberg: Anton Koberger, VII 1493).
John Rylands Library,  University of Manchester Library: Incunable Collection 4067, f. 102v.

The Nuremberg Chronicles Arguing with the Chronicle’s narrative

 By kind permission of the University of Manchester Library. 

All Our Chronicles

The Nuremberg Chronicle mostly expressed 15th-century Catholic views of sacred history. Marginalia in different copies of the Chronicle show how its readers sometimes challenged the historical interpretations offered by the Chronicle’s compiler, Hartmann Schedel. Sometimes their criticisms reflected their Protestantism, sometimes it came from an expertise in biblical and Christian history. Sometimes it was both.

“Manicules varied in shapes, length of pointing fingers, as well as fluffiness and fashion of the cuffs”

This page of the Chronicle covered the first decades after Christ’s ascension (fo. 102v) and addressed the origins of papal power – as such it was frequently annotated by both supporters and critics of the papacy.  A reader of this copy of the Chronicle was critical about the statement that Peter instituted the fast of forty days, noting that it was ‘the most false’ idea. He or she defended this criticism by referring to another book, Lives of the Popes (1475) by Bartolomeo Platina, an Italian humanist.  Platina argued that the fast was only introduced in the  2nd century by the Pope Telesphorus. This reader might have been a Protestant or just interested in sacred histories. The inscription itself also provides a charming example of a widely used manuscript convention employed by early modern readers – a pointing finger or a ‘manicule’.  Depending on one’s taste and drawing skills, these manicules varied in shape, length of fingers, as well as the fashion of the cuffs.

The provenance of this copy of the Chronicle represents the increasing 19th-century mania for collecting rare books. This copy was bought by George Spenser, 2nd Earl Spencer (1758-1834), a bibliophile who created one of the biggest English private libraries of his time. At the end of the century, his library was purchased by another book enthusiast, Enriqueta Augustina Rylands (1843-1908). She established an impressive library in memory of her late husband, textile magnate of Manchester, John Rylands.


In the age of Reformation both Catholic and Protestant readers eagerly reacted on the way sacred history was presented in the Nuremberg Chronicle. They censored and supplemented its text, thus continuing raging confessional debates in the margins.