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John Strecche Canon of Kenilworth
The Life and Times of a Medieval Historian -
By Geoffrey Hilton
Published 2004 by the author at Kenilworth
Though this agreeable little book is very much a product of Kenilworth, where the author is Secretary
of the Local History and Archaeology Society, it is noteworthy that the only hard facts known about
its subject place him firmly within medieval Rutland. As Geoffrey Hilton observes:
‘we have only two manuscripts by John Strecche and we know only two dates in his later life’.
These dates are of his appointment as Prior of Brooke in 1407 and his retirement as Prior in 1425.
Despite this dearth of certainty, Geoffrey Hilton nevertheless manages to tell a convincing and
detailed tale of Strecche’s life as a chronicler and a canon of Kenilworth. Strecche’s slim claim on
posterity is his two volumes of history that now reside in the British Library. They seem to be the
usual fare of medieval chroniclers; bizarre legends of Albion, of struggles with the giant
Gogmagog and Britain’s founding by Aeneas’s great grandson Brutus. That one chronicler copied
another is well known but Hilton uses this fact well to determine Strecche’s sources and where
he departs from the traditional narratives.
Strecche is at his best when his history reaches his own time – of course. This is especially so when
‘history’ comes to Kenilworth, as it did in the aftermath of the Battle of Shrewsbury when the
wounded Prince Henry was brought for treatment to the Priory. The chronicle ends with the death
of Henry V in 1422 but as Hilton concedes, this makes Strecche more a Rutland historian than a
Warwickshire one – since it seems the bulk (if not all) of his work was done at Brooke.
This study is to be recommended. Hilton plays his few cards well and avoids the temptation to speculate too wildly. The physical
writing of the chronicle, how Strecche would have prepared his parchment and ink, for example (which occupies much of chapter 6) is
a good example of Hilton’s relevant and interesting diversions. Work on the manuscripts continues – a copy is lodged at the record
office in Warwick – so we may fairly expect more on Strecche, medieval Kenilworth and perhaps even the priory at Brooke.