The image above will be familiar to anyone with an interest in Henry II and his devil’s brood. It is one often used for book covers and articles about the Angevin kings of England. But where is it actually from?
Well, it is from a manuscript known as ‘The Genealogical Roll Chronicle of the English Kings.’ This spectacular manuscript is from the reign of Edward I, made at some point between 1272 and 1307, long after the deaths of Henry II and his children. It is a genealogical account of the kings of England and their families. The genealogy starts with Egbert, king of Wessex, whose descendent united England. It originally finished with Edward I, but in c.1340, provided a continuation down to Edward III; this addition remained incomplete, with no pigments illuminating the sketches.
The whole roll takes around 5 metres to tell the genealogy. But the small section we are looking at shows Henry II and his children. With beautiful illuminations for each of them, they appear in birth order: William (died in infancy), Henry the Young King, King Richard the Lionheart, Duchess Matilda of Saxony, Duke Geoffrey of Brittany, Queen Eleanor of Castile, Queen Joan of Sicily, and King John.
Neither the artist nor the patron of this magnificent work is known. Genealogies were a very popular genre at this time; many nobles commissioned such manuscripts to demonstrate their lineage and justify their titles. It could well be that Edward I himself commissioned this particular genealogy. What we do know is that it ended up in the royal collection some time prior to 1535, as it is listed as ‘Role des roys d’Angleterre’ in an inventory of Richmond Palace. As a Renaissance prince with a humanist education, it is easy to imagine Henry VIII valuing this manuscript and the connection it shows between his predecessors, and the great Anglo-Saxon kings, like Edward the Confessor and Alfred the Great.
The entire roll can be viewed on the British Library website, here: https://tinyurl.com/w3r9v2eb