Ranulf Higden (c.1280 – 1364)
Ranulf Higden was a Benedictine monk at St Werburgh’s Abbey – the medieval precursor of Chester Cathedral – from 1299 until his death. A prominent and well-known chronicler in fourteenth century England, he was called upon by King Edward III to provide counsel on ‘certain matters’ explained to him upon arrival.
This manuscript is a copy of Higden’s most famous work – Polychronicon: an encyclopaedic history of the world from creation to his present day. The text is part of the ‘continuation’ tradition of chronicle writing in which subsequent authors augment and alter Higden’s text to reflect their understanding and experience of history. As such, the manuscript is not only one of Chester Cathedral’s principal connections to its medieval predecessor but is also an important insight into intellectual thinking in the mid-to late-fourteenth century.
Few manuscripts associated so closely with St Werburgh’s Abbey remain in the possession of the Dean and Chapter, and so Polychronicon is particularly prized among our collections. Its illuminated folios and (possibly) original wooden board and doe skin binding make it an engaging book to look at and work with. Manuscripts require specific environmental conditions to maintain their gorgeous colours and structure, provided by this case. The Cathedral’s Works Department provide regular conservation care and maintenance for the manuscript and our other collections.
St Werburgh’s Abbey
Abbeys are the buildings where monks or nuns live. Following the dissolution of the monasteries between 1536 and 1541 many Abbeys became Cathedrals. This was the case for St Werburgh’s Abbey, Chester, which became the Cathedral Church of Christ and the Virgin Mary in 1540.
Literally meaning ‘hand-written’ (Latin manu- = hand), this word could refer to any document written by hand, but the term is usually only used when the document is written on parchment (animal skin).
Conservation is a broad field of work occupied with the care of historic or significant objects and buildings. Conservators carry out conservation work such as environmental monitoring and repairs and offer tailored advice for items and conditions which are usually unique.
 H C Maxwell Lyte (ed.), Calendar of Close Rolls, Edward III: Volume 9, 1349-1354 (His Majesty’s Stationery Office: London, 1906).