This, the first of two volumes which will cover altogether the years from 1182 to 1256, is longer than the second, despite the fact that it concerns only one abbot, Samson, and his rule, while the second concerns his four successors and their abbacies which cover in total forty-four years. The main reason for this imbalance is that for Samson there is an abundance of evidence, much of it contemporary, but his four successors are comparatively poorly served in that respect. Above all, for Samson there is the superlative work of Jocelin of Brackland. Few medieval abbots were favoured with such lifelike portraits of themselves and such graphic descriptions of the convent under their rule as was Samson. Jocelin's work is more than a biography: in the middle ages it was entitled ‘cronica’ and it is called a ‘chronicle’ to this day. It is a literary narrative recounting the history of St Edmunds from 1180 to 1202, with Samson figuring as large as life at its centre.
Unfortunately, Jocelin's chronicle does not cover the last decade of Samson's abbacy. Its value as a source for Samson's abbatiate will be very evident in the pages which follow. However, it has been used in conjunction with other literary sources and with record evidence preserved in the abbey's archives and in the Public Record Office. These, of course, are our sole authorities once Jocelin's chronicle ends in 1202. Although nearly all the relevant literary sources extant are thirteenth- and fourteenth-century versions, their authors included earlier material. For example, the Gesta Sacristarum has much information on building work in the abbey in Samson's time, and the so-called Cronica Buriensis fills in a few gaps in our knowledge of Samson's career. The latter is only known from a copy, incomplete at the end, made in about 1400. It is a history of St Edmunds from 1020 to 1346. Other gaps are filled by the earliest monastic chronicle known to survive from St Edmunds, the so-called Annales Sancti Edmundi. This brief chronicle covers the period from the Incarnation to 1212. It ends incomplete in the course of the annal for 1212 owing to the loss of leaves from the only known copy.