A family archive

Schedel, Hartmann. Liber Chronicarum (Nuremberg: Anton Koberger, VII 1493).
The Library of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge: F.9.3 (G.A.S. 21), f. 266r.

The Nuremberg Chronicles Keeping afamily archive
The Nuremberg Chronicles

By permission of the Master and Fellows of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge.

All Our Chronicles

Early modern readers often used the margins of devotional books to write down the history of their families. We can find family histories in books of hours, bibles, and prayerbooks – books which were used in the household and were passed on through generations.  This copy of the Nuremberg Chronicle, held by Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, presents a less common example of an historical book being used to record family events.

This Chronicle belonged to George Eden of Sudbury, Suffolk (d. 1558), a member of parliament and a surveyor in Cambridgeshire. He used the blank space on the final page of the Chronicle to keep his family archive of 1541-1555. He started with his own marriage, then wrote the dates (and even time) of birth of his children, later making additional notes marking the death of some of those children. He also recorded family connections and patronage networks.  George mentioned that his brother, Thomas Eden, married Griselda Waldegrave,  daughter of the Chancellor of Lancaster.  George then noted which important figures he wanted to be patrons for his children.  Finally, he ended with an entry on the death of his own patron, Stephen Gardiner, Lord Chancellor and Bishop of Winchester under Queen Mary. These registers provide us with an insights into how early modern readers placed their private family story within the larger narratives of history. 

“Another reader wrote on the blank page: ‘This is a good booke – as any is in this town”

George Eden was not the only reader, or owner, of this copy of the Chronicle.  There were other readers of this copy,  like the staunch Protestant John Paman, who left notes attacking the mass and censored the woodcut of Archbishop Thomas A Becket. Finally, yet another reader demonstrates that this book was being read in early modern Cambridge.  This reader wrote on a blank page of the Chronicle that ‘this is a good booke – as any is in this towne’ of Cambridge.  Then on the map, he made a note next to the British Isles: ‘god made this country indede’.


The Nuremberg Chronicle was not a book on devotion, but often reflected readers’ personal piety. The Chronicle’s predictions of the Apocalypse made them contemplate the vanity of life, the meaning of death, and consider their hopes for salvation. The margins of the Chronicle preserve manuscript prayers and pious quotations, as well as recording births and deaths in readers’ own families.