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Definition: Capgrave, John from The Columbia Encyclopedia

1393–1464, English author and Augustinian friar. One of the most learned men of his day, he was a distinguished theologian, philosopher, and historian. His writings, many of which have been lost, include a chronicle of England up to 1417 and the Latin works De illustribus Henricis [on illustrious men named Henry] and Nova legenda Angliae [new legends of England], a rewriting of a collection of lives of English saints by a monk of Tynemouth.

Summary Article: CAPGRAVE, JOHN (1393-1464)
from Encyclopedia of Medieval Literature

John Capgrave was born near Lynn in Norfolk in 1393. He probably joined the monastery at Lynn and was ordained as a priest in 1417. In 1422 he became a lector in theology and went to study at Cambridge, where he received his doctor of theology degree in 1425. Capgrave was an earnest student and a prodigious writer in both Latin and Middle English, finishing numerous lives of saints and histories within his lifetime. Of particular note, he completed his best-Known historical work, Abbreviacion of Chronicles, in Middle English sometime between 1461 and his death in 1464. The work is comprised of three main sections: Part I (from Creation to Christ), part II (Roman and Holy Roman emperors, and Part III the kings of England). He used no known source directly for Part I, although some of its passages and arrangement are reminiscent of Isidore of Seville's chronicle of world history. For the second part he relied heavily on Martin Polonus's Chronicon Pontificum. For his dual history of the Roman Church and the Roman Empire, Capgrave used a dual text structure, where events concerning Roman emperors are recorded in one column while information concerning popes is included in a separate column. But Capgrave's desire to abridge his sources often leads to oversimplification and misinformation. In the final section of the history Capgrave relied on Thomas Walsingham's highly derivative Historia Anglicana. The Abbreviacion of Chronicles brings together what Capgrave felt were the most important events in world and later British history. He often moralized historical incidents, and consistently revealed a bias for Christians and later Englishmen in his depiction of events.

  • Brandt, William J. The Shape of Medieval History. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1966.
  • Gransden, Antonia. Historical Writing in England II: c. 1307 to the Early Sixteenth Century. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1982.
  • Lucas, Peter J., ed. John Capgrave's Abbreviacion of Chronicles. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1983.
  • Lucas, Peter J.. “Towards a Standard Written English? Continuity and Change in the Orthographic Usage of John Capgrave, O.S.A. (1393-1464).” in English Historical Linguistics 1992. Amsterdam: Benjamins, 1994, 91-104.
  • Winstead, Karen A.. “Piety, Politics, and Social Commitment in Capgrave's ‘Life of St. Katherine.’” Medievalia et Humanistica 17 (1991), 59-80.
  • Richard McDonald

    Copyright © 2000 by Robert Thomas Lambdin and Laura Cooner Lambdin

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