“The Canterbury Roll is a 15th-century, hand-written genealogy that begins with Noah and traces the rulers of England from the mythical Brutus to King Edward IV. The genealogy is accompanied by an extensive commentary in Latin. The five-metre long manuscript roll was purchased by the University of Canterbury in 1918 from the Maude family of Christchurch.”
Blah, blah, blah. Yadda, yadda, yadda. Who cares?
“The Wars of the Roses are what Games of Thrones is based on, and this is the Wars of the Roses laid out across a 5-metre, visually spectacular document.”
Whoa! Do we have your attention now? The first quote is from the introduction to The Canterbury Roll digital edition, which is edited by University of Canterbury Senior Lecturer Dr. Chris Jones, who made the second quote in an interview with news.com.au. discussing an upcoming project in New Zealand to analyze the iconic 600-year-old genealogical scroll in person and figure out who will die next when Game of Thrones returns in 2019.
OK, that would be a special benefit and it’s not the real reason why scholars are excited about the “Canterbury Roll Project.” Jones explains that the project is a merge of an ancient scroll with the latest in digital scrolling technology
“People have released ‘digital’ rolls in the UK and the US but they tend to be static photos. This is a fully scrolling, online and zoomable text. It’s considerably more sophisticated than anything that exists in the world today.”
The first phase, already up and running, is technologically impressive. Jones and his team of experts and students are tasked with fully translating the document from Latin to English for both history and Game of Thrones fans. The Canterbury Roll begins with the biblical story of Noah and traces the rulers of England from Brutus of Troy to King Edward IV with commentary in Latin – commentary that is both factual and fantasy.
The scroll ends with the 33-year War of the Roses between the English House of Lancaster and the House of York and Jones says that both houses had a hand in telling and retelling the tale.
"It is not the only manuscript roll from this period to exist in the world, but, uniquely, it features contributions from both [of] the key players in the Wars of the Roses — it was originally drawn up by the Lancastrian side in the conflict but it fell into Yorkist hands, and they rewrote part of it."
That’s part of the mystery that the new research hopes to resolve. They will be using modern imaging technology to hunt for indications of spots where one house may have written over script from the other house (a primitive form of correction fluid, which was used when documents were typed on typewriters … oh, never mind). That section inspired George RR Martin's Game of Thrones and his subsequent fantasy novel series which were adapted for the HBO series.
The history of the scroll since it was discovered could inspire yet another mystery series. Its ownership and safekeeping from the late 15th century until 1918 is mostly unknown. Prior to Canterbury College ( the University of Canterbury’s predecessor) acquiring it in 1918, it was known as the “Maude Roll” because it was owned by Sibylla Maude, better known to New Zealanders as "Nurse Maude," who started what was to become the country’s first district nursing service, standardized training for nurses and improved public health. She believed her family had owned the document since the Middle Ages but had no proof of this other than the scroll itself. The university bought the roll from Maude near the end of World War I to promote New Zealand's identity as a British colony, but was hidden in the 1970s to cover up that same history.
Now that it’s linked to Game of Thrones, there’s no stopping the students at the university from completing its translation from Latin to English so it can be digitized and made available to the general public by the end of 2018, just in time for the last season of the series.