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William of Malmesbury (c. 1080/1095–c. 1143), English historian of the 12th century, was born about the year 1080/1095, in Wiltshiremarker. His father was Norman and his mother English. He spent his whole life in Englandmarker, and his adult life as a monk at Malmesbury Abbeymarker in Wiltshire, England.

Biography

The education William received at Malmesbury Abbey included a smattering of logic and physics; moral philosophy and history, however, were the subjects to which he devoted the most attention. During the course of his studies, he amassed a collection of medieval histories, which inspired in him the idea for a popular account of English history modelled on the Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum (Ecclesiastical History of the English People) of Bede. William's obvious respect for Bede is apparent even within the preface of his Gesta regum Anglorum, where he professes his admiration for the man.

In fulfilment of this idea, William produced around 1120 his Gesta regum Anglorum (Deeds of the English kings or Deeds of the kings of the English people) which spanned from AD 449–1120. He later edited and expanded it up to the year 1127, releasing a revision dedicated to Earl Robert of Gloucester. This "second edition" of the Gesta regum is now considered by modern scholars to be one of the great histories of England. William's first edition of the book was followed by the Gesta pontificum Anglorum (Deeds of the English Bishops) in 1125.

Around this time, William formed an acquaintance with Bishop Roger of Salisbury, who had a castle at Malmesburymarker. It is possible that this acquaintance, coupled with the positive reception of his Gesta regum earned him the offered position of Abbot of Malmesbury Abbey in 1140. William, however, preferred his duties as librarian and scholar and declined the offer. His one public appearance was made at the council of Winchestermarker in 1141, in which the clergy declared for the Empress Matilda. He continued his chronicles with the Historia Novella, or modern history, a three-book chronicle that stretched from A.D. 1128-1142, including important accounts of the anarchy of King Stephen's reign. This work breaks off abruptly at the end of 1142, with an unfulfilled promise that it will be continued. Presumably, William died before he could redeem his pledge.

Significance

He is lauded by many, including John Milton, to be one of the best English historians of his time, and remains known for strong documentation and his clear, engaging writing style. A strong Latin stylist, he shows literary and historiographical instincts which are, for his time, remarkably sound. He is an authority of considerable value from 1066 onwards; many telling anecdotes and shrewd judgments on persons and events can be gleaned from his pages. Some scholars criticize him for his atypical annalistic form, calling his chronology less than satisfactory and his arrangement of material careless. Much of William's work on Wulfstan, Bishop of Worcester is thought to derive from a first hand account from Coleman a contemporary of Wulfstan, merely translating the document from Old English into Latin. William's works are still considered invaluable, and despite these shortcomings, William of Malmesbury remains one of the most celebrated English chroniclers of the twelfth century.

Bibliography

  • William of Malmesbury: Gesta pontificum Anglorum (Deeds of the English Bishops), Vol. I, Edited and Translated by M. Winterbottom and R.M. Thomson, Oxford University Press, 2007. ISBN 0-19-820770-0
  • William of Malmesbury: Gesta pontificum Anglorum (Deeds of the English Bishops), Vol. II: General Introduction and Commentary, by R. M. Thomson, Oxford University Press, 2007. ISBN 0-19-922661-X
  • William of Malmesbury: Gesta regum Anglorum (Deeds of the English Kings), Vol. I, Edited and Translated by R. A. B. Mynors, R. M. Thomson and M. Winterbottom, Oxford University Press, 1998. ISBN 0-19-820678-X
  • William of Malmesbury: Gesta regum Anglorum (Deeds of the English Kings), Vol. II: General Introduction and Commentary, by M. Winterbottom and R. M. Thomson, Oxford University Press, 2002, ISBN 0-19-820709-3
  • William of Malmesbury: Historia Novella (The Contemporary History), Edited by Edmund King, Translated by K. R. Potter, Oxford University Press, 1999. ISBN 0-19-820192-4
  • William of Malmesbury, Chronicle of the Kings of England, translated by Rev. John Sharpe, edited by J.A. Giles, London: George Bell and Sons, 1904.
  • William of Malmesbury: The Deeds of the Bishops of England [Gesta Pontificum Anglorum], Translated by David Preest, Hushion House, 2002. ISBN 0-85115-884-6
  • Rodney M. Thomson, William of Malmesbury, Boydell & Brewer, 2003. ISBN 1-84383-030-2


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