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The Battle Abbey Roll is popularly supposed to have been a list of William the Conqueror's companions, preserved at Battle Abbey, on the site of his great victory over Harold.

It is known to modern historians only from 16th century versions of it published by John Leland, Holinshed and Duchesne, all more or less imperfect and corrupt. Holinshed's is much the fullest, but of its 629 names several are duplicates. The versions of Leland and Duchesne, though much shorter, each contain many names found in neither of the other lists. It was so obvious that several of the names had no right to figure on the roll, that Camden, as did Dugdale after him, held them to have been interpolated at various times by the monks, "not without their own advantage."

Later writers went further, Sir Egerton Brydges denouncing the roll as "a disgusting forgery," and E.A. Freeman dismissing it as "a transparent fiction." An attempt to vindicate the roll was made by Catherine Powlett, Duchess of Cleveland, whose Battle Abbey Roll (3 vols, 1889) is a guide to its contents.

It is probable that the character of the roll has been quite misunderstood. It is not a list of individuals, but only of family surnames, and it seems to have been intended to show which families had "come over with the Conqueror," and to have been compiled about the 14th century. The compiler appears to have been influenced by the French sound of names, and to have included many families of later settlement, such as that of Grandson, which did not come to England from Savoy till two centuries after the Conquest. The roll itself appears to be unheard-of before and after the 16th century, but other lists were current at least as early as the 15th century, as the duchess of Cleveland has shown.

In 1866 a list of the Conqueror's followers, compiled from Domesday and other authentic records, was set up in Dives church by Léopold Delisle, and is printed in the duchess' work. Its contents are sufficient to show that the Battle Roll is worthless. The fact remains that almost none of the original combatants at Battle in 1066 can be named with any certainty.[1]

References

  1. ^ There are a very few exceptions, one of whom was William Malet, pictured in the Bayeux Tapestry.


NOTE from Lynneage@h-o-l.com: There is a copy of the Battle Abbey Roll which predates the 16th century by two centuries more. It comprises one portion of the mid-14th century manuscript called the Auchinleck Manuscript, which in fact is a book containing quite a number of manuscripts, including one of the Battle Abbey Roll. The book is described as follows: "... one of the National Library of Scotland's greatest treasures. Produced in London in the 1330s ... [i]t acquired its name from its first known owner, Lord Auchinleck, who discovered the manuscript in 1740 and donated it to the precursor of the National Library in 1744." Thus, a copy of the Battle Abbey Roll did exist at least as early as circa 1330.

A comparison of the list of family names in the Auchinleck version of the Battle Abbey Roll with the lists cited above may be informative. The NLS reference for the Auchinleck Manuscript is National Library of Scotland Advocates' MS 19.2.1. URLs are in the following Reference

References

The Auchinleck Manuscript, eds David Burnley and Alison Wiggins; hosted by The National Library of Scotland; published: 5 July 2003; accessed 26 July 2008; Version 1.2: <http://www.nls.uk/auchinleck/> <http://www.nls.uk/auchinleck/contents.html>

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