A reference book for sacred history

Schedel, Hartmann. Liber Chronicarum (Nuremberg: Anton Koberger, VII 1493).
The British Library: Inc. 122, f. 111v.

The Nuremberg Chronicles Chronicle as a reference-book on sacred history

Reproduced with the permission of The British Library.

All Our Chronicles

Even though the confessional narrative of the Chronicle often provoked criticism from early modern readers, many still used it as a reliable source of Church history, and we find references to the Chronicle in the work of the Tudor historians Robert Fabyan and Richard Grafton.

This early modern reader of the Chronicle was interested in the history of the Catholic Church, and his or her notes show no obvious Protestant or Catholic leanings. On this page this reader left the comments next to text about the Popes of the 2nd century, making notes about the rules of Mass, consecration of churches, and administering Holy Communion. Elsewhere, the reader’s voice is indifferent when writing about the Mass and when commenting on the story of Pope Joan – which usually irritated Catholic readers.

“This book reflects the history of one of the finest libraries in sixteenth-century England”

Although we do not know anything else about this reader, the provenance of this copy reflects the history of one of the finest 16th-century libraries in England. This copy originates from the famous library of Lord John Lumley (c. 1534 – 1609). A book collector himself, he brought together the libraries of Archbishop Thomas Cranmer; Henry Fitzalan, Earl of Arundel; and the library of the antiquary, Humphrey Lloyd. Lumley’s splendid library was kept in Nonsuch Palace, and after his death, it passed to the Crown, thus significantly contributing to the Old Royal Library. As this copy of the Chronicle does not bear the ownership marks typical for books belonging to either Cranmer, Arundel, or Lloyd, we may suggest that it was acquired by Lumley himself, who was particularly keen on  books on history. 


The Nuremberg Chronicle combined sacred and political history, attracting readers with its encyclopaedic nature. Early modern readers read the book for information about the past but they also added to the historical narrative of the Chronicle, developing their own chronologies and even continuing the Chronicle’s narrative up to the present.