The emperor that had been emperor before he was crowned emperor: Otto IV and Ralph of Coggeshall

I am used to medieval chroniclers giving me a treat every time I read their works. Ralph of Coggeshal is no exception. He was a Cisterician monk writing at the abbey of Coggeshall in Essex in the 1220s. He is famous for his account of John’s reign and many different bits and pieces that serve the expositional interests of English medievalists. I am interested in Ralph because his work is very similar to that I am doing my doctoral work on, the Crowland Chronicle. But back to Ralph.

His chronicle has been titled ‘Chronicon Anglicanum’, the English Chronicle and records all sorts of events under discrete annal headings (in 1066 AD this happened, in 1150 AD this, etc, etc). When he gets to 1209, he writes that “Henry duke of Saxony, brother of emperor Otto (the Holy Roman Emperor Otto IV), came to England.’ Then he mentions that clouds fought with the sun for a long time in February and then comes back to Otto IV, only to say that he was crowned emperor by pope Innocent III that very year.

How exciting is that? Some scholars have raised serious doubts about the narratological value of medieval annalistic chronicles (Hayden White, high five!), and I think this is the sort of thing they might have had in mind. There is no conceivable narrative sequence (let alone a plot) that may be discerned in this annal. This naturally raises the question whether the annal was designed as we now have it in Ralph’s autograph manuscript or whether Ralph was planning to redraft it.

Anyhow, this is the sort of thing a student of historiography does when confronted with annals and their authors. And Ralph is not alone in this. Sometimes, however, chroniclers who enjoy recording dry strings of disconnected events can turn the tide on annalistic narrativity, as my Crowland chronicler did on many occasions. But about this anon.

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