Elis Gruffudd’s Chronicle

Reference: NLW MS 5276D & 3054D

In circa 1552 Elis Gruffudd completed his massive chronicle of the history of the world, which was then divided in two. In the first part, NLW Manuscript 5276D he attempts to describe the world's history in six ages from its Creation through to the Christian Age. In the second part, NLW Manuscript 3054D we are told the history of England and Wales from the time of William the Conqueror to 1552. The chronicle was the last work which he ever created.

View the manuscripts

NLW MS 5276iD (Vol 1 Part 1)  
NLW MS 5276iiD (Vol 1 Part 2)  

NLW MS 3054iD  (Vol 2 Part 1)      
NLW MS 3054iiD  (Vol 2 Part 2) 

Who was Elis Gruffudd?

Elis Gruffudd (‘The soldier of Calais’) was born circa 1490 in Upper Gronant in the parish of Llanasa, Flintshire. He joined the English army in about 1510 and fought in Holland and Spain. By 1518 he was working for Sir Robert Wingfield, a gentleman from Suffolk, and in 1520 he moved to Calais where Wingfield was an ambassador. Between 1524 and 1529, he was custodian of Sir Robert’s mansion in London, and then returned afterwards to Calais where he stayed for the rest of his life. It is not known when he died.

Chronicler

Although Gruffudd was a soldier and an administrative officer, it is his work as a transcriber, translator, and in particular as a chronicler, which is of interest today. Gruffudd’s most important work is his chronicle, which is one of the most extensive narrative texts written in the Welsh language.

Gruffudd’s significance as a source becomes apparent in contemporary sections of the text, where the evidence is based upon his own experiences. While accompanying his master, Sir Robert Wingfield, he witnessed many important events, such as the meeting between the kings of England and France on the Field of Cloth of Gold, near Calais, as well as trials at the Court of Star Chamber, London. He gives lively descriptions of what he has seen and heard.

At some point in its history, the chronicle was divided into two parts, both of which are now held in the National Library. The earlier part of the chronicle, now NLW MS 5276D, belonged to Professor Thomas Powel until the Library purchased it after his death in 1922. The later part of the chronicle was held in the library of Mostyn Hall, Flintshire, as Mostyn 158, until it was bought by A. Cecil Wright and donated to the National Library in 1918. It is now NLW MS 3054D.

NLW Manuscript 5276D

This manuscript contains the first part of Elis Gruffudd's chronicle and contains over 500 folios. In this manuscript, he attempts to describe the world’s history in six ages from its creation through to the Christian Age. This pattern of explaining world history in six ages was widely used in the Middle Ages. It was a Christian periodization of history first outlined by the philosopher and theologian Saint Augustine around the year 400 AD.

In the chronicle Elis Gruffudd confines his description of the first five ages of world history to the first half of this manuscript, and therefore a quarter of the whole chronicle. He gives greater attention to the sixth age, that of the Christian Age, mostly the history of Britain and France which continues through to the second part of the chronicle - manuscript 3054D.  He finishes this manuscript with the history of the Norman Conquest of England.

NLW Manuscript 3054D

NLW Manuscript 3054D contains the second part of Elis Gruffudd’s chronicle, which discusses the history of England and Wales from the time of William the Conqueror, to 1552. It consists of 688 folios, and has been split into two volumes (i & ii), both of which are bound in oak boards covered with leather. The original first folio is missing. Gruffudd’s narration is clear and orderly and he uses visual aids such as embellishments, headings and capital letters to denote the end of one section and the beginning of the next.

This manuscript throws some light on Gruffudd’s own life, and also on the lives of other Welsh people who emigrated to London and Calais. Furthermore, we are shown the attitudes of the Welsh towards the first two Tudor kings, Henry VII and VIII, and are given an insight into Welsh history in an English cultural context.

Further Reading

  • J. Hunter, Soffestri'r Saeson (Cardiff, 2000)
  • T. Jones, ‘A Welsh chronicler in Tudor England’, Welsh History Review, 1 (1960–63), 1–17
  • C. Lloyd-Morgan, ‘Elis Gruffydd a thraddodiad Cymraeg Calais a Chlwyd’, Cof Cenedl, 11 (1996), 31–58
  • P. Morgan, ‘Elis Gruffudd yng Nghalais’, Bwletin y Bwrdd Gwybodau Celtaidd, 21 (1964–6), 214–18
  • Report on manuscripts in the Welsh language, Historical Manuscripts Commission, Volume 1, (1898–1910), (tud. 214–21)
  • Brynley F. Roberts, ‘Gruffudd, Elis (b. c.1490, d. in or after 1556)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, (Oxford, 2004)