Robert was born, likely in 1326, in the settlement of Popultoun (modern Poppletons), two villages some 4 -5 miles NW of York. He was ordained acolyte at the Church of the Carmelites (whitefriars), a mendicant order, in York on 18 Dec. 1344 (usually at the age of 19), then sub-deacon in Thirsk in 1345, deacon in Ripon, and then priest at the Carmelite Church at York. During his later career, Robert was appointed prior of Hulne Priory in Alnwick by 1366, within the Diocese of Durham, likely the oldest Carmelite Convent in England.
Little of Robert and his life is known, and he is largely famous for a manuscript which bears his name, the Poppleton Manuscript, which was compiled in Hulne Priory. This manuscript now resides in Paris, Bibliotheque Nationale MS lat. 4126, usually called ‘ Chronica et Miscellanea super Historiam Anglice’, though this does not quite reflect its contents. Many of the texts it contains are important, often unique sources, of the early history of Scotland, likely arriving in Paris due to the many links between Scotland and France, during centuries of the ‘auld Alliance’.
Robert was the compiler, overseer, the part scribe, and possibly the decorator of the Chronica, which was a ‘recycled’ manuscript, combining old and new documents, and adding marginal glosses, cross references, and summaries. This manuscript was to provide Hulne Priory with an up-to-date reference work on Carmelite, as well as English and Sottish histories, of particular concern in such a border town as Alnwick, caught up in the military conflicts of the fourteenth century.
Hulne Priory had an extensive library of almost 100 volumes, but none of the known works appear in the Poppleton manuscript. However, 12 of the items used in its compilation also appear in the catalogue of the Augustinian Friar’s library at York. York had extensive knowledge of and contacts with Scotland and its early history, and it is likely that Robert of Poppleton drew heavily on the York resources for his compilation. Internal evidence within the manuscript, suggest that it was compiled after 1357, and likely before 1375. It is likely that Robert died during, or just after the completion of the manuscript, as it states ‘anima fratris Roberti de Popultoun illa quiete perfruator, amen, amen’. (May the soul of brother Robert of Popultoun, take enjoyment in its peace, amen, amen’).
The Poppleton Manuscript starts with a map of the World and index (both unusual at the time); and contains works by Orosius, Geoffrey of Monmouth and Gerald of Wales. However its importance reflects the fact that it contains seven, often unique documents, likely compiled in Scotland during the 13th century. They are –
De Situ Albanie – the only known copy
Cronica de Origine Antiquorum Pictorum -this is part of the Pictish Chronicle, Latin learning of the early Picts and Scots, containing extracts from Isidore of Seville, and the Historia Brittonum of Nennius.
A Pictish King List up to the accession of Cinaed mac Ailpin. This can be linked to production at the monastery at Abernethy.
Chronicle of the Kings of Alba from Cinaed mac Ailpin (d.858AD) to Cinaed mac Mail Coluim (d. 995). The only preservation of this information, much relating to the early kingdom of Dalriata in Argyll.
A genealogy of William 1 The Conqueror. This is a record of a Gaelic genealogy, with many names in Middle Irish form.
A Foundation Legend of St. Andrews.
The Poppleton manuscript and its compilation at Hulne Priory, hence provides a valuable, sometimes unique, preservation of much early history of the north of Britain, and the country that is now Scotland, but also preserves much information of early Irish, Welsh and English histories. In recent years it has been widely researched by many important scholars of early Scottish history.