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William of Malmesbury

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Stained glass window showing William, installed in Malmesbury Abbey in 1928 in memory of Rev. Canon C. D. H. McMillan, Vicar of Malmesbury from 1907 to 1919.
Stained glass window showing William, installed in Malmesbury Abbey in 1928 in memory of Rev. Canon C. D. H. McMillan, Vicar of Malmesbury from 1907 to 1919.

William of Malmesbury (Latin: Willelmus Malmesbiriensis; c. 1095 – c. 1143) was the foremost English historian of the 12th century. He has been ranked among the most talented English historians since Bede. Modern historian C. Warren Hollister described him as "a gifted historical scholar and an omnivorous reader, impressively well versed in the literature of classical, patristic, and earlier medieval times as well as in the writings of his own contemporaries. Indeed William may well have been the most learned man in twelfth-century Western Europe."[1]

William was born about 1095 or 1096[2] in Wiltshire. His father was Norman and his mother English.[3] He spent his whole life in England and his adult life as a monk at Malmesbury Abbey in Wiltshire, England.[4]

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  • ✪ At the edge of the world - Episode 1: 1086: William the Conqueror's Domesday Court
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Transcription

Britain. The founding of nations. From the withdrawal of roman legions in 381 to william the conqueror in 1087. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records King William I, (the Conqueror), Duke of Normandy, wearing his crown at Salisbury in August 1086, surrounded by all of his earls, barons, and other principal landholders in his Norman kingdom of England, that was only twenty years old and won by conquest at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. These great men had gathered because a survey of the kingdom was complete, and their holdings duly recorded beyond peradventure of doubt. They had come to swear fealty and to make homage to the King for their lands, as recorded in the royal land inquiry. They were cementing a relationship of great religious moment between monarch and chief vassals, a relationship that could hardly have been more permanent than if it had been hewn in stone, like the Ten Commandments, though it was written on sheep skins, which have endured very much better than Moses' tablets. The court at Salisbury was so important an occasion in the feudal nexus of allegiance and loyalty, oaths given to the King in return for land and privileges - which the King's law would uphold for the tenant who was true to his word - that this record of landowners and their property soon became known as Domesday Book, literally, the final arbiter on ownership, duties, responsbilities, privileges that arose from the possession of land. From King William's point of view, it was the ultimate record of who owed what to the crown, as supreme landlord of England, in return for their shares in the conquest. It was the last word on property rights, and the evidence contained in it was soon thought of as the 'Last Trump of Doom,' By the end of the twelfth century, it was called Domesday Book. No one knows why for certain - perhaps because it was like the Last Judgment when the trumpets are to be sounded and Christ will come to judge the quick and the dead. The word 'doom' - D. double O. M. - is an ancient Anglo-Saxon word, meaning a a 'judgment', having the effect of a law, and we shall meet Anglo-Saxon kings' dooms later. Maybe Domesday derives from this word. But we have almost seven centuries to recount before we reach Salisbury in 1086, for the plot of this drama is long and winding, with every kind of vice and virtue displayed as we go. We shall not be able to begin to understand why there was a Norman conquest and why the new king and the ruling �lite were able, so quickly, to compile Domesday Book, a land inventory of the vast area that was England, until we understand the centuries that preceded it, and have made England, Scotland, and Wales the nations they now are. The pre-history of Britain, beginning about ten thousand years ago, after the last Ice Age, when people from continental Europe colonized this island, is barely known. There have been archaeological discoveries, and consequent speculation, but these are not history. History means recorded history, history written down, and we do not really have any of that until the middle of the first century BC in The Conquest of Gaul, written by Julius Caesar, who made two unsuccessful invasions of southern Britain, in 55 and 54BC. In my school days, we all soon learned Caesar's famous fib, veni, vidi, vici (the first Latin for most of us) - 'I came, I saw, I conquered.' Well, he came and he saw, but the conquest had to wait until AD43 and the Emperor Claudius, who conquered and annexed Britain - Britannia, as the Romans called it - the last province to be added long-term to the Roman Empire. Roman legions were withdrawn from Britain in AD381 because Rome itself was under threat, and the Island at the Edge of the World was cut adrift. I have entitled my discussion as I have because Britain was at the edge of the known world. Look at the map I have made of the Euro-Asian land mass. On the left, we have the enormous Roman Empire, on the right the enormous Chinese Empire. In between we have the Persian Empire, the Indian kingdoms and empires, the south Asian kingdoms of the Silk Road between East and West. These states and many I have not named were the civilized world as known in about AD400, though the map of the sort I am showing would have had no meaning to people then. They had writing, without which organized government is impossible; they had trade, currency, art, literature, philosophy, luxury, religion, numerical, linear-, weight-, and volume-calculation, astronomy, astrology, medicine - well, everything really, but not maps of the sort I am showing. What they had was representations of the world, like the one I am now showing, made in the second century by Claudius Ptolemy, a Greek from Alexandria, in Egypt. It was not intended as a navigation map, but - with Rome at its centre - Ptolemy's map was meant to demonstrate the overwhelming authority of Roman emperors and the civilized fineness of all things that emanated out of their great imperial city. Maps that we know in atlases and, until SatNav, in road gazeteers did not begin for another one thousand seven hundred years, in the eighteenth century. To the east of the land mass was nothing but the Pacific Ocean, and to the West the Atlantic. Except for a short visit by Vikings in the eleventh century, the American continent would not be discovered by the peoples of the Euro-Asian land mass until the fifteenth century, first, by the Chinese, who did not stay, and a bit later in that century by the Europeans, in the person of Christopher Columbus. The coastal strip of North Africa and some way down the River Nile were known, but Africa was otherwise a void until Vasco Da Gama, also in the fifteenth century, set out from Portugal, and sailed round the Cape of Good Hope, and up the east coast of Africa to India. Australia, New Zealand, and the Pacific islands were not discovered by Europeans, until the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries: the civilized world's contribution to the last group having once been described as bringing 'gunpowder, print, and the Protestant religion' - we ought not to forget syphilis. Britain, therefore, as a place known to history, was at the very edge of the world in AD381 and would remain so for many centuries to come. In our story, we shall encounter Britons who were synonymous with Welsh and Cornish people; Angles, Saxons, and Jutes; Gauls, Franks, Frisians, Picts, and Irish who were really Scots; Norsemen, whom I shall mostly call 'Vikings' until the end of the 10th century, when I shall call them Danes; and then Normans. There will be lesser groups. Some of these races were conquerors and the Normans were the most successful conquerors of them all. What lies before us is like an enormous Hollywood epic that Cecil B De Mille might have liked to produce, but whose actors will include real people, playing themselves: Roman emperors, popes, princes, princesses, kings, queens, pirates, rapists, thieves, martyrs, holy men - bad and good - saints, story-tellers, whom we call chroniclers. Names that still resonate include SS Gregory and Augustine, the Venerable Bede, now canonized, Alfred the Great, King Cnut, Edward the Confessor, and, of course, William the Conqueror. We shall come across incomparable wealth in the treasure houses of kings and noblemen, to contrast with the meagre livelihoods of unnamed thousands of men and women, whose only fault in these tumultuous centuries was to be at the bottom of the social and political hierarchy: it was ever thus. We shall find armies and navies, battles and hostage-taking, massacres and burnings of whole towns; gruesome executions, blindings, and maimings; shocking natural disasters, attributed to acts of God visited on a wicked people. Infidelity in men, it has been well said, is as common as rain, and we shall encounter killers of their fathers, their mothers, their brothers, and their sisters - rulers who can use anyone, even a man of honour. We shall also find fabulous artworks, wise law codes, just rulers, great kindnesses, acts of selfless charity, and love affairs of the greatest intensity. It is a story mainly about how the Christian world spread and took root in the British Isles, but also elsewhere, to become the plinth on which the pillar of Western civilization stands, and to which it remains cemented, despite the rapid secularization of our society since the end of the Second World War in 1945. We used to believe in religious myths, now we believe in secular ones. Kings and emperors have been replaced by presidents and prime ministers whose acolytes and apologists include scientists, sociologists, lords of industry and commerce, journalists, television news presenters, even actors and pop singers, and people like me, you might think, as this story rolls along. You may well wonder, as we move through the centuries, whether we are making a history of Christianity, or a history of the people who now comprise what I call - not uniquely - the British Mongrel. We shall be doing both because, without Christianity, we shall never arrive at a proper understanding of the countries that comprise our islands At the Edge of the World, and Christianity - or how Christianity was interpreted - is the continuous thread that links everything together. Perhaps it still does, if in less intense ways than in the Anglo-Saxon period. I shall be digressing, throughout this documentary, from the Anglo-Saxon Christian past to the British present, in which symbols and proselytes, rituals and beliefs - having different names and titles today, being even atheistic - are essentially derived from a Christian heritage of martyrology and have their own form of righteousness, little different - except in nomenclature - from old Canon - or Church - Law, their own inquisitions, preachers, saints, and sinners. The burning debate - literally, by some lights - of Global Warming among scientists and politicians may not condemn to physical torture or to death by the scarlet flame those who question or dissent; but such dissenters, if scientists, it has been alleged, just don't get published in academic magazines and, thus, are excluded from funding. The last British government came up with the thoughtful epithet for them: 'Flat-Earthers.' Before we go into detail to set the all-important religious context of our period, we must go back again to Salisbury in 1086, where we left King William the Conqueror and his chief followers. What was England like then? (I say England not to ignore the Scots or the Welsh, but because we actually have a reasonably clear picture of the kingdom from the English chronicles and, of course, that great survey, Domesday Book itself). Jane Cox, a principal assistant keeper at what was the Public Record Office, organized an exhibition to mark the Great Survey's ninth centenary in 1986. The Public Record Office, or PRO, is now called the National Archives, lives at Kew, south-west London, and is where the original Exchequer Domesday Survey is kept and is known as Public Record No One. You can go there to see it in its air conditioned room. Mrs Cox reminds us in the guide to her Exhibition that England was probably the richest monarchy in Europe. We shall see why much later in this documentary. The land was cultuivated to a large extent in vast fields where hedgerows, which still define much of rural England today, hardly existed at all. She tells us: The primeval forests had long been cleared and the land was wooded about as much as modern France. Settlements were old established and, except for the far north, there was no spot from which half a day's walk would not bring you to a house. Many Roman roads had been maintained, communications were good, and trade flourished. The idea, therefore, that Robin Hood and his merry men, a century or so later, could hide out in Sherwood Forest, Nottinghamshire, is fiction. Indeed, as a lover of the hunt - like all great men of the time - William the Conqueror planted forests, one in south-west Hampshire, so that he could pursue this sport. That forest is still called the New Forest because it was new and it was needed in the eleventh century, the king and many of his suceessors decreed. There were still wolves and wild boar, but you may not know that there wern't any rabbits. These were introduced by the Normans for hunting with the bow. I need hardly say that there were none of the modern conveniences, but some absences, that we take for granted today, may surprise. There was no sugar. There were no potatoes, tomatoes, spinach, oranges, lemons, coffee, tea. There were no horse chestnut trees, so there were no conkers for boys to play with against each other. I remember having a sevener, a conker with which I won seven contests before it was shattered by another boy in a playground competition, where you took it in turns to hit the opponent's conker with your own, both suspended on a knotted string. Where conkers are still permitted in schools, I believe that contestants must now wear safety goggles. Wine from these shores is not new, though you might think so. Twenty-four vineyards are recorded in Domesday Book, and British wine, as it was called, is mentioned with praise by Tacitus, a Roman historian living in the early second century AD, which suggests that the climate was warm enough for vines in the outdoors. We shall continue this preparatory description in next week's episode when I shall tell you about flowers, herbs, trees we did not have, the atrocious forms of medicine available to our ancestors, and Time.

Contents

Biography

Though the education William received at Malmesbury Abbey included a smattering of logic and physics, moral philosophy and history were the subjects to which he devoted the most attention. The evidence shows that Malmesbury had first-hand knowledge of at least four hundred works by two hundred-odd authors.[5] 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,[6] where he professes his admiration for the man.

In fulfilment of this idea, William completed in 1125[7] his Gesta Regum Anglorum ("Deeds of the English Kings"), consciously patterned on Bede, which spanned from AD 449 to 1120. He later edited and expanded it up to the year 1127, releasing a revision dedicated to Robert, Earl of Gloucester. This "second edition" of the Gesta Regum, "disclosing in his second thoughts the mellowing of age",[8] is now considered one of the great histories of England.

William wrote of William the Conqueror in Historia Anglorum:

He was of just stature, extraordinary[9] corpulence, fierce countenance; his forehead was bare of hair; of such great strength of arm that it was often a matter of surprise, that no one was able to draw his bow, which himself could bend when his horse was in full gallop; he was majestic whether sitting or standing, although the protuberance of his belly deformed his royal person; of excellent health so that he was never confined with any dangerous disorder, except at the last; so given to the pleasures of the chase, that as I have before said, ejecting the inhabitants, he let a space of many miles grow desolate that, when at liberty from other avocations, he might there pursue his pleasures. His anxiety for money is the only thing on which he can deservedly be blamed. This he sought all opportunities of scraping together, he cared not how; he would say and do some things and indeed almost anything, unbecoming to such great majesty, where the hope of money allured him. I have here no excuse whatever to offer, unless it be, as one has said, that of necessity he must fear many, whom many fear.[10]

A view of Malmesbury Abbey in Wiltshire, completed in 1180; it remains in use as the parish church of Malmesbury
A view of Malmesbury Abbey in Wiltshire, completed in 1180; it remains in use as the parish church of Malmesbury

William's first edition of the book was followed by the Gesta Pontificum Anglorum (Deeds of the English Bishops) in 1125. For this vivid descriptive history of abbeys and bishoprics, dwelling upon the lives of the English prelates saints, notably the learned wonder-working Aldhelm, abbot of Malmesbury, William travelled widely in England. He stayed at Glastonbury Abbey for a time, composing On the Antiquity of the Glastonbury Church for his friend, the abbot Henry of Blois who was also the Bishop of Winchester. (Among the first works to mention SS Fagan and Deruvian, its present form is notably marred by anachronistic forgeries and additions.)[citation needed]

Around this time, William formed an acquaintance with Bishop Roger of Salisbury, who had a castle at Malmesbury. 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 Winchester in 1141, in which the clergy declared for the Empress Matilda.

Beginning about 1140, William continued his chronicles with the Historia Novella, or "modern history", a three-book chronicle that ran from 1128 to 1142, including important accounts of The Anarchy of King Stephen's reign. This work breaks off with an unfulfilled promise that it would be continued: presumably William died before he could redeem his pledge.[11] William also wrote a history of his abbey and several saints' lives.[citation needed]

Significance

William is considered 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;[12] many telling anecdotes and shrewd judgments on persons and events can be gleaned from his pages. Some scholars criticise 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. William merely translated the document from Old English into Latin. William's works are still considered invaluable and, despite these shortcomings, he remains one of the most celebrated English chroniclers of the twelfth century.[citation needed]

Works

  • (Willielmi Monachi Malmesburiensis): De Gestis Regum Anglorum, Libri V; Historiae Novellae, Libri II; De Gestis Pontificum Anglorum, Libri IIII., in Rerum Anglicarum Scriptores Post Bedam Praecipui, ex vetustissimis codicibus manuscriptis nunc primum in lucem editi (G. Bishop, R Nuberie & R. Barker Typographij Regii, London 1596). digitized ed. Migne, Patrologia Latina vol. 179.
  • 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 0-19-820192-3
  • 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, Boydell Press, 2002. ISBN 0-85115-884-6
  • William of Malmesbury (2011). Liber super explanationem Lamentationum Ieremiae prophetae. CCCM. 244. Michael Winterbottom, Rodney M. Thomson (eds.). Turnhout: Brepols. ISBN 978-2503540870. Translation: William of Malmesbury (2013). On Lamentations. Corpus Christianorum in Translation. 13. Michael Winterbottom (trans.). Turnhout: Brepols. ISBN 9782503548494.

See also

Notes

 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "William of Malmesbury". Encyclopædia Britannica. 28 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.

  1. ^ Hollister, C. Warren (1 October 2008). Henry I. Yale University Press. p. 3. ISBN 978-0-300-14372-0.
  2. ^ discusses the evidence for his age and thus his birth year
  3. ^ Winterbottom, Michael (2010). "William of Malmesbury and the Normans". The Journal of Medieval Latin. 20: 70–77. doi:10.1484/J.JML.1.102101.
  4. ^ Rodney Thomson, William of Malmesbury, 1987 is the full-length study; see also Farmer, Hugh (1962). "William of Malmesbury's Life and Works". The Journal of Ecclesiastical History. 13 (1): 39–54. doi:10.1017/S0022046900065659.
  5. ^ Thomson 1987:197–207.
  6. ^ William (of Malmesbury) (1847). Chronicle of the Kings of England: From the earliest period to the reign of King Stephen. H. G. Bohn. pp. 175–. Retrieved 31 October 2012.
  7. ^ Hollister 2001:4,
  8. ^ Hollister 2001:4.
  9. ^ William of Malmesbury, Chronicle of the Kings of England, ed. Giles, London 1847, p.308
  10. ^ Quoted in James Westfall Thompson and Edgar Nathanael Johnson, An Introduction to Medieval Europe, 1300–1500 (1937) p. 440
  11. ^ "William of Malmesbury Critical Essays - eNotes.com". eNotes. Retrieved 13 November 2017.
  12. ^ Momma, Haruko (2012). "Narrating the Battle of Hastings: Multilingual Britain and the Monolingualism of William of Malmesbury". In Ad Putter, Judith Jefferson (eds.) (eds.). Multilingualism in Medieval Britain (c. 1066–1520). Medieval Texts and Cultures of Northern Europe. 15. Turnhout: Brepols. pp. 225–239. doi:10.1484/M.TCNE-EB.1.100803. ISBN 978-2-503-54250-8.CS1 maint: uses editors parameter (link)

Further reading

  • Rodney M. Thomson, William of Malmesbury, Boydell & Brewer, 2003. ISBN 1-84383-030-2
  • Kirsten A. Fenton, Gender, Nation and Conquest in the Works of William of Malmesbury (Woodbridge, Boydell, 2008) (Gender in the Middle Ages).
  • Discovering William of Malmesbury, edited by Rodney Thomson, Emily Dolmans, and Emily A. Winkler (Woodbridge: Boydell & Brewer, 2017)

External links

This page was last edited on 30 June 2019, at 15:41
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