There are many online versions of fifteenth and sixteenth century texts available and the easiest places to access them are often archive.org, Project Gutenberg, the Hathi Trust or Medieval Genealogy. Throughout this website you will find images taken from the British Library’s Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts. Some of their original manuscripts are available in full online. You can also find a number of sources specifically about Richard III on the website of the American Branch of the Richard III Society. There are dedicated projects on certain texts which provide especially useful editions. If you are aware of a better edition of any of the following texts, please do let us know so that we can share them with others.
If you are examining sources in Middle English, you may find it helpful to refer to an online dictionary of Middle English. And if you are trying to work out a calendar date the Medieval Genealogy calendar page is very useful
Some important Primary Sources that were published by the Richard Society are now available online here. These include
- Richard III’s signet book: BL MS Harley 433
- Records of royal funerals, a christening and a coronation pageant
- Contemporary reports of events in England by Caspar Weinreich (in Danzig), Niclas von Popplau (a visiting Silesian knight), Gerhard von Wesel (from Cologne), and others
- Some chancery warrants from Richard III’s reign
- and the inventory of a fifteenth-century necromancer!
Other especially useful online sources, in approximate chronological order, include:
Statutes of the Realm, these are the versions of the statutes that were circulated after the relevant parliament. The original French in which they were first published is given alongside an English translation. Henry VI’s start at 237 (p. 213), Edward IV’s at 404 (p. 380) Richard III’s start at 503 (p. 477).
The Paston Letters are a fantastic archive of family correspondence over a period of 70 years. Many are about domestic matters and local events while others provide unique details about national politics. The online version is not the most up to date but the correspondence has been digitised by the British Library.
An English Chronicle for the reigns of Richard II, Henry IV, Henry V and Henry VI is a continuation of a Brut chronicle which is commonly called Davies’ Chronicle after the name of its first editor. A better manuscript has since been found and edited, but that is not online and the most significant differences relate to Richard II’s reign. The last part of the work (1440-61) was written by an ardent Yorkist.
The Edward IV Roll: an illustrated genealogy celebrating Edward IV’s claim to the English, French and Castilian thrones and his position as King Arthur’s heir.
The Historie of the Arrivall of Edward IV was written to celebrate Edward IV’s return to England in 1471. Find out more here. The manuscript image in the headers of this website comes from the frontispiece to Ghent University Library’s manuscript of this book.
Warkworth’s Chronicle of the first thirteen years of Edward IV’s reign, written in 1484, is unusual for its northern focus. It expresses some sympathy for Henry VI but is fairly balanced. It is often attributed to John Warkworth, an Oxford academic and clergyman from Northumberland, but this is only because he owned one of the two known manuscripts.
John Blacman’s Compilation of the Meekness and Good Life of Henry VI was probably written shortly before Henry VI’s body was moved from Chertsey to Windsor by Richard III. Blacman was a fellow at Eton and Henry VI’s confessor.
The Crowland Chronicle. The Second Continuation of this chronicle was written in 1486 by someone close to the centre of events, although their identity remains a matter of great debate. The online edition is a nineteenth-century version. A more up to date edition of the continuations, in parallel with its Latin original, was produced by Nicholas Pronay & John Cox in 1986 and is worth getting hold of if you can. There is more about the chronicle here.
Philippe de Commynes was a Franco-Burgundian diplomat who wrote a very useful, albeit sometimes rather colourful, memoir of his experiences which can be found in several versions. The most recent editions (by Blanchard or Dufournet) are not online. Volume 2 of Dupont’s edition covering the period from the mid 1470s is here. There is a nineteenth-century English translation of Dupont’s version volumes 1 and 2; and a more modern translation of the early books of the Calmette and Durvelle (1920s) edition here. This last includes a valuable introduction about Commynes.
John Rous was a Warwickshire antiquary who wrote beautiful rolls on the history of the earls of Warwick during Richard III’s reign. He also wrote a History of the Kings of England over the period 1480-86. The history is not especially useful for understanding the events of the Wars of the Roses but it does show one clergyman’s view of things. It is notable for the violent hostility of his account of Richard III compared with the panegyric in the Rous Roll. Online you can find the Latin text of his Historia Regum Angliae; a translation of the section on Richard III is in Alison Hanham’s Richard III and his Early Historians; and the manuscript itself is in the British Library. The British Library have fully digitised The Rous Roll.
Robert Fabyan‘s New Chronicles of England and France were published in 1516. Fabyan was probably born in the late 1450s and was a draper, sheriff, mayor and alderman of London. He died in 1513.
Polydore Vergil was an Italian scholar and papal employee (an agent of Adriano Castellesi da Corneto), who arrived in England in 1502. Henry VII encouraged him to write his Anglica Historia in about 1506. It was completed in 1513 although not published until 1534. He revised it for new editions in 1546 and again in 1555. This last is the online version, edited and translated by Dana Sutton.
Raphael Holinshed’s Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland are actually an early secondary source since Holinshed was not born until 1525. His chronicles were nonetheless an important source for many later histories and for Shakespeare. Find out more on the British Library’s website.