Writing the history of England

Schedel, Hartmann. Liber Chronicarum (Nuremberg: Anton Koberger, VII 1493).
Guildhall Library, City of London: SAFE, f. 147r.

The Nuremberg Chronicles Writing the history of England

Guildhall Library, City of London.

All Our Chronicles

Early modern readers used the Nuremberg Chronicle as a source of historical information. They underlined, marked, and annotated paragraphs dealing with topics they were interested in which ranged from ancient authors, sacred history, and specific geographical regions and cities. Often this reflected a general curiosity, however, the Guildhall Library’s copy of the Nuremberg Chronicle was read and used by a professional historian of the late 15th century.

“Fabyan used the margins to collate the lineage of English and French kings.”

This Chronicle belonged to Robert Fabyan (d. 1513), an English historian and author of the New Chronicles of England and France and the Great Chronicle of London. Fabyan’s copious marginal notes demonstrate his methods of reading. On this page, the right margin contains a fragment of Fabyan’s list of English and French kings.  Many of them were never mentioned in the Chronicle itself, which means that Fabyan drew this information from other sources, using the margins to complete the lineage of the rulers of both kingdoms. Interestingly, the design of these manuscript additions closely repeat the layout of royal genealogies printed in the Chronicle. Moreover, in order to facilitate the search of these additions (for himself or for future readers), Fabyan added references to his own marginal notes to the printed index of the Chronicle.

Fabyan interacted with the Chronicle’s text on other historical matters. For example, on this page, he provided precise dates for events in early Mediterranean history, and inserted a couple of notes on the Lombards. We can also see that these notes were commented on by a later, 17th century reader. Subsequent readers – several English gentlemen – left marginal notes and manicules throughout the Chronicle, but they usually did not meddle with Fabyan’s manuscript notes, treating them as an implicit part of the book. This interaction of different readers illustrates how manuscript and printed cultures were still deeply interwoven in the 16th century.


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.