Journal of Medieval History, Vol. 26, No. 1, 2000, pp. 71–92.
Matthew Paris’ Chronica Maiora has long been recognised as one of the most important sources for the history of the thirteenth century. So far, however, research has concentrated largely on discovering and isolating Matthew’s prejudices and bias. This has led to an approach in which some passages are accepted as ‘genuine’ and therefore reliable, whereas others are dismissed as ‘fanciful’. However, this ignores Matthew’s considerable literary skills and the wide range of techniques and methods he employed in composing his chronicle. Even seemingly innocuous episodes form part of a bigger whole, and cannot be viewed in isolation. The following will exemplify this with Matthew’s coverage of the 1256 Christmas Parliament, when news of Earl Richard of Cornwall’s candidacy for the German throne was first announced to the English magnates. Matthew employed King Henry III’s own propaganda to invalidate the very message it was intended to convey. This, in turn, throws new light on the early months of Richard’s career, its connection with the ambitions and undertakings of the English royal court, and Matthew’s method and technique of literary composition.