The chronicle of Hugh Candidus

Photo: Illustrative image for the 'The chronicle of Hugh Candidus' page
Photo: Illustrative image for the 'The chronicle of Hugh Candidus' page

An early history of Peterborough

Much of what is known about the early history of Peterborough is due to a monk of the Abbey named Hugh, who compiled a chronicle around the middle of the Twelfth Century. Hugh’s narrative covers the foundation of the Abbey by the Mercian King Peada, its sacking by the Danes and the arrival of the first Norman Abbot after Hereward had burnt it in 1070. He also recorded everyday happenings affecting the life of the monastery.

Later history

It is only from later additions to the chronicle by monks and historians that we learn anything about Hugh at all. As a young man Hugh had a serious illness and his recovery was seen as a miracle. He was known as Hugh White because of his fair complexion. He held many appointments at the monastery and ended his days as sub-prior during the abbacies of Martin de Bec and William de Waterville.

Who was Hugh Candidus?

Hugh warns his readers ‘not to take offence at any lack of culture in words or style’.  He was either very modest or genuinely felt he lacked skill and knowledge. As a writer Hugh was careful not to record anything in the Chronicle which was not based on evidence – ‘I write nothing and I speak of nothing, save that which I found recorded in the writings of old time or heard from the lips of ancient and faithful witnesses’.

The story of the monastery Fire of 1116.

On the 4th August the whole monastery was burned by negligence. Abbot John de Seez cursed the monastery after he found the brethren had re-arranged the boards. ‘And when a certain sergeant of the bakehouse was making a fire, and it did not light at once, he said in a temper “Come devil, blow the fire”, and the fire burst out at once and reached the roof, and ran through all the outbuildings as far as the vill’.

The story of Black Shuck

The most notorious ghost in Peterborough is that of the demon hellhound, Black Shuck, who is said to have haunted the area since 1127. It was said that this phantom dog was part of a divine curse upon the people of Peterborough for tolerating the sins of the Abbot of Peterborough Abbey. In the Chronicle of Hugh Candidus jet black hounds are described appearing with hunters with horns on the fens.

The ‘Fair’ Fens

Hugh Candidus viewed the fens as a fair spot, ‘very valuable to men because they are obtained in abundance all things needful for them that dwell thereby, logs for kindling, hay for the feeding of their beasts, thatch for roofing their houses’. He appreciated the beauty of the fens and described the area around Peterborough as ‘a very paradise on earth’ granted by God to the founders of the monastery of S.Peter of Burch.

This page was added on 14/03/2010.

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