Archive: Corruption, Fights, Intrigue - Parliament in Medieval England; Following Years of Painstaking Research, We Now Have a Fascinating New Insight into 300 Years of Political Intrigue. Lisette Johnston Reports
Byline: Lisette Johnston
A new translation of the oldest records of the English Parliament which took seven years to complete was officially launched this week.
The scripts, translated by medieval historians at the University of St Andrews, paint a picture of a corrupt national assembly, with details of bloody fights between debating Lords and horrific punishments dealt to criminals.
The study involved researchers poring over original large-scale parliamentary rolls, which were handwritten on strips of parchment about a foot wide.
The rolls, which date from 1275 to 1504, were written by clerks of the Crown in a variety of medieval languages from Latin and Medieval French to Middle English.
The new edition, entitled Parliament Rolls of Medieval England (PROME), was launched at Westminster by the National Archives, which sponsored the project.
Professor Christopher Given-Wilson, of the school of history at St Andrews, is general editor of the new edition.
'This is the first complete translation of the official records of the early English parliament - previous translations only account for around five per cent of the records of that time,' he said.
'Our project has resulted in previously inaccessible yet highly important records being made available.
'In those days Parliament was not just a place for nobility and in addition to its role as the national assembly, it was also the supreme judicial body of the realm.
'It gave normal people the ability to directly access the king, to seek justice or to make complaint.
'Our research covers the 250 parliaments called during the period from the first recorded debate in 1275 to the last roll in 1504.'
During the course of the project, the team of researchers based at St Andrews, Cambridge, Oxford, Dublin, Southampton and York universities found descriptions of some of the most colourful episodes of English Parliamentary history.
These included King Henry VI's madness, fist fights between Lords and accusations that King Richard II tampered with the official rolls during his reign.
The painstaking process of translating the four million ancient words began in 1998 and involved a team of seven editors and five research assistants.
The final work has been put on a CD-Rom, which will be made available to libraries and schools.
The papers, which when translated are more than nine million words long, will eventually be turned into hard copy and divided into 17 volumes.
Until now, no attempt has been made to fully translate the ancient texts. The manuscripts detail the fate of one man accused of being party to the murder of the Duke of Gloucester, which 'merited the harshest death to which he could possibly be sentenced'.
As a result of being found guilty of killing the King's uncle, he was immediately drawn and disembowelled, with his entrails being burned before him. …