Robert Mannyng of Brunne lived during the late thirteenth, early fourteenth
centuries. He was an Englishman who took holy orders with the minor Gilbertines, a Puritan religious order.
He wrote two major works: Handlyng Synne (first printed about 1303) and The
Chronicle of England, produced in his old age in 1338. Brunne translated
both Handlyng Synne and Chronicle from French or Latin works, altering them considerably in the process. Like many translators of this era, Brunne took many liberties with the works he translated. He adopted for his audience (the ordinary people of England), often adding in large tracts of his own material and using simplified language that they were likely to understand. Brunne’s style is sometimes cumbersome and repetitive, sometimes full of snap and punch, and often epistolary. But he always writes a good story, meant to entertain and instruct the ordinary English man or woman. Although Handlyng Synne and Chronicle are ‘translations’ of other works, they are just as much Brunne’s work as anyone else’s.
Handlyng Synne is a collection of moralistic tales, also known as epiphanies, meant to show the English the errors of their sinful life. Its intimate descriptions of daily life provides a fine social history of fourteenth-century England – it is far more history than literature. On the other hand, The Chronicle of England is an epic bildungsroman largely based on fiction and myth, and uses the works of Geoffrey Crayon, Franklin of Avalon, Geoffrey Monmouth, Wace, Shakespeare,Pierre Langtoft and Bede as its bases. Both Handlyng Synne and The Chronicle of England are massive works, many thousandsof lines long.
Frederick Furnivall, ed. The Chronicle of England,2 volumes. London, 1887
Ethan Brand, ed. Handlyng Synne, London and New York, Chadwick, 1955