Article

Adam Usk

Chris Given-Wilson

in Medieval Studies

ISBN: 9780195396584
Published online May 2017 | | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780195396584-0232
Adam Usk

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  • Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500)
  • Literary Studies (Early and Medieval)
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  • Anglo-Saxon and Medieval Archaeology

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The chronicler Adam Usk was born in the parish of Usk in South Wales around 1350 and died there in early 1430, but the life he led was far from parochial, involving intrigue, betrayal, great danger, and considerable achievement. Trained as a lawyer at the University of Oxford, he briefly rose to prominence in the service of the archbishop of Canterbury and King Henry IV of England following the latter’s usurpation of the throne in 1399. In the spring of 1401, when he was at the height of his influence, he began writing the chronicle for which he is primarily remembered. Although written as a continuation of the Polychronicon, or universal chronicle, of Ranulf Higden, it is generally treated as a separate chronicle in its own right. It covers the years 1377 to 1421 and describes, often briefly, several of the major events that occurred in England and Wales during the reigns of Richard II, Henry IV, and Henry V but is especially important for its accounts of the downfall of King Richard II and of the Welsh revolt against English rule led by Owain Glyndwr, which are cited by almost all historians of these momentous events. Within a year of starting to write his chronicle, however, Usk decided to go abroad to seek promotion at the papal court in Rome, where his indiscretions led within a few years to him being branded a traitor by Henry IV and deprived of his benefices, so that it was another nine years before he was pardoned and allowed to return to England and a further three before, in 1414, he decided to resume his chronicle, which he continued to do in an increasingly desultory fashion until the summer of 1421. Unusually for a medieval chronicler, Usk wove much autobiographical material into his narrative, but the controversies in which he became embroiled meant that he was obliged to be highly selective in what he wrote, leading to much speculation by modern historians and literary scholars about his truthfulness and his periodically oblique and quasi-penitential mode of narration. In his will of January 1430, he bequeathed his chronicle to a kinsman, Edward ap Adam, but it was not until the 19th century that it was rediscovered and edited, since when it has been extensively used as an important independent account of the events through which Usk lived and in which he participated.

Article.  4611 words. 

Subjects: Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500) ; Literary Studies (Early and Medieval) ; Medieval and Renaissance Philosophy ; Byzantine and Medieval Art (500 CE to 1400) ; Anglo-Saxon and Medieval Archaeology

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