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Battle Abbey Roll

BATTLE ABBEY ROLL. This 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 us only from 16th century versions of it published by 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." Modern writers have gone 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 the last duchess of Cleveland, whose Battle Abbey Roll (3 vols., 1889) is the best 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 M. Leopold Delisle, and is printed in the duchess' work. Its contents are naturally sufficient to show that the Battle Roll is worthless.

See Leland, Collectanea; Holinshed, Chronicles of England; Duchesne, Historia Norm. Scriptores; Brydges, Censura Literaria; Thierry, Conquête de l'Angleterre, vol. ii. (1829); Burke, The Roll of Battle Abbey (annotated, 1848); Planché, The Conqueror and His Companions (1874); duchess of Cleveland, The Battle Abbey Roll (1889); Round, "The Companions of the Conqueror" (Monthly Review, 1901, iii. pp. 91-111).

(J. H. R.)

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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