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William of Malmesbury

William of Malmesbury

R. M. Thomson
Copyright Date: 2003
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 252
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7722/j.ctt163tbs8
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  • Book Info
    William of Malmesbury
    Book Description:

    This is the first book devoted entirely to William of Malmesbury, England's greatest historian after Bede, one of the great figures of the 12th-century renaissance. Although best known for his historical writings, William was also a biblical commentator, scribe and editor of texts. Here, R.M. Thomson looks at the man, his times and his work as a man of letters.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-175-0
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. LIST OF PLATES
    (pp. vi-vi)
  4. PREFACE TO THE PAPERBACK EDITION
    (pp. vii-viii)
    Rodney M. Thomson
  5. PREFACE TO THE FIRST EDITION
    (pp. ix-x)
    Rodney M. Thomson
  6. ABBREVIATIONS
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  7. Part I: Context, Character and Achievement

    • 1 WILLIAM OF MALMESBURY AND HIS ENVIRONMENT
      (pp. 3-13)

      BY THE LATE eleventh century, when William of Malmesbury was born, England was well along the path of recovery from the chaos which had followed the Norman Conquest. In addition it was beginning to benefit from the substantial, if sometimes painful, innovations made by its new masters. As in the realm of government, law and order, so in the world of learning and religion: the new ecclesiastical hierarchy was determined to sweep away the purely insular elements in English cultural and religious life, which they regarded as unauthoritative and barbarous, and to bring the country back into the mainstream of...

    • 2 WILLIAM AS HISTORIAN AND MAN OF LETTERS
      (pp. 14-39)

      AS A HISTORIAN and man of letters, William has over the last two centuries drawn very diverse reactions from those scholars whose work has brought them into contact with him. At one end of the spectrum, praise has been lavished on his wide reading, critical acumen and historical judgement; at the other, he has been accused of credulity, carelessness, wilful mishandling of evidence and meandering irrelevance. Some scholars have judged him as head and shoulders above, and in advance of, his time – a ‘modern’ writer;¹ while others have seen him as the creature of his epoch and immediate environment in...

    • 3 WILLIAM’S READING
      (pp. 40-75)

      ONE OF THE most fundamental prerequisites of the ‘Twelfth-Century Renaissance’ was a dramatic increase in the range and availability of reading matter, both old and new. One need only compare what was available to writers of the eighth and ninth centuries, such as Bede, Rabanus or Alcuin, with the library catalogue of a sizeable twelfth-century abbey to see the force of this. The rediscovery of ancient texts, both pagan and Christian, was arguably the most important facet of this new enthusiasm for reading, for the assimilation of the literature of antiquity supplied a common and assured basis for further advances...

    • 4 WILLIAM’S ‘SCRIPTORIUM’
      (pp. 76-96)

      NOT ONLY A great historian, William was also, as we have seen, an omnivorous reader and an indefatigable collector of books for his abbey library. From his own statements and from textual evidence we know that he scoured the country between c.1115 and c.1140 looking for ancient volumes and rare works. The details of this large undertaking are mysterious and fascinating, provoking many questions. Did he purchase or otherwise obtain old or ‘second-hand’ copies? Did he have new copies made where the exemplar was held, or did he borrow the exemplar and have the copying done at Malmesbury? If the...

    • 5 THE EARLIEST BOOKS FROM THE LIBRARY OF MALMESBURY ABBEY
      (pp. 97-116)

      MALMESBURY ABBEY was one of that select group of English houses which could trace its history back to the golden age epitomized and chronicled by Bede.¹ To Bede’s older contemporary Aldhelm (d. c.709) belongs most of the credit for setting the recently founded community on its feet and for making it a byword throughout the British Isles for the pursuit of divine and secular learning.³ During his abbacy Malmesbury eclipsed the reputations of the Irish schools and of Hadrian’s Canterbury. At only one other point in its long history did the abbey attain a comparable reputation for learning, when it...

  8. Part II: Studies of the Writer at Work

    • 6 WILLIAM’S EDITION OF THE LIBER PONTIFICALIS
      (pp. 119-136)

      WILLIAM IS MOST commonly thought of as a national historian, and it is upon his achievement in writing the history of England from Bede until his own day that his reputation has always rested.¹ But he had wider historical perspectives, and they are important. Even in theGesta Regumthere are lengthy asides upon the histories of the Carolingian Empire, of France and Normandy, of papal-imperial relations and the crusading movement.² He was also fascinated by the civilization of Antiquity, and Bodl. Libr. MS Arch. Seld. B. 16 contains his collection of chronicles of imperial history from the earliest days...

    • 7 WILLIAM’S CAROLINGIAN SOURCES
      (pp. 137-153)

      WILLIAM’SGesta Regum Anglorum, completed early in 1126, is of course primarily a history of England; primarily, but not solely, and certainly not in any narrow sense. On the contrary, William felt it necessary to at least summarize, in a series of digressions, the history of those peoples who, by invasion, intermarriage or diplomatic intercourse, became part of England’s history. So, he dealt with the continental Saxons and Scandinavians briefly, the Frankish, German and French royal families and the Normans in greater detail.¹ The excursuses became more frequent as, on nearing his own time, his vision grew even more pan-European,...

    • 8 WILLIAM AND THE LETTERS OF ALCUIN
      (pp. 154-167)

      IN TRYING TO piece together a coherent account of English secular and ecclesiastical history in the century after Bede, William was forced back upon theAnglo-Saxon Chronicle, supplemented by such miscellaneous sources as he could find either in his local library or in the course of his extensive bibliographical travels.¹ Among them, charters and letters occupy an important place, and for a good many of these William is a valuable textual witness. This is true for letters of Aldhelm, Boniface and, to a greater extent than has been realized, of Alcuin.²

      In the first book of theGesta Regum Anglorum...

    • 9 WILLIAM AND SOME OTHER WESTERN WRITERS ON ISLAM
      (pp. 168-177)

      Some of William’s strongest views, as conveyed in his writings, were those about ethnic and religious groups. His emphatic sense of Englishness has long been noted, and more recently his concept of ‘civilization’, of which he thought the ancient Romans and modern French the greatest exemplars.¹ Also in recent times, attention has been given to the down-side of these notions, particularly his negative treatment of Celts (Welsh, Irish, Scots and Bretons) and Jews.² What little he had to say of the Byzantines is ambivalent but on the whole not untypical of his time.³ Of Islam, however, he had both more...

    • 10 WILLIAM AS HISTORIAN OF CRUSADE
      (pp. 178-188)

      WILLIAM IS NOT usually thought of as a historian of crusading, nor much referred to by modern historians of the phenomenon.¹ His most famous work, theGesta Regum Anglorum, is primarily what its title suggests. But, as we have seen, there are many digressions, mostly into continental history. William was conscious of them and justified them in explicit appeals to the reader.² Some provide necessary background to the course of English affairs, some are there for their entertainment value, and some because of their intrinsic importance in the general course of European history. One of these digressions is his account...

    • 11 WILLIAM AND THE NOCTES ATTICAE
      (pp. 189-198)

      UNTIL RECENTLY, William’s florilegium of extracts from classical and patristic sources, thePolyhistor, attracted little attention. Now, however, thatflorilegiaare seen to be illuminating cultural documents, not merely quarries for rare texts or useful readings, thePolyhistorhas been edited, and some of the extracts in it discussed.¹ L. D. Reynolds, for instance, showed that William was the first person after late antiquity to know the complete correspondence of the younger Seneca, which had circulated in two parts. William included excerpts from both parts in thePolyhistor, and his principle of selection was characteristically individual: he was more attracted...

  9. APPENDIX I: THE DATE OF WILLIAM’S BIRTH
    (pp. 199-201)
  10. APPENDIX II: LIST OF WORKS KNOWN TO WILLIAM AT FIRST HAND
    (pp. 202-214)
  11. APPENDIX III: CONTENTS AND SIGNIFICANT READINGS OF THE GELLIUS FLORILEGIUM
    (pp. 215-224)
  12. SELECT BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 225-228)
  13. INDEX OF MANUSCRIPTS
    (pp. 229-231)
  14. GENERAL INDEX
    (pp. 232-240)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 241-241)