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Historia Regum Britanniae  
Author Geoffrey of Monmouth
Translator Wace, Layamon
Country Britain
Language Latin
Genre(s) Pseudohistory
Publisher None
Publication date c. 1138

The Historia Regum Britanniae (English: The History of the Kings of Britain) is a pseudohistorical account of British history, written c. 1136 by Geoffrey of Monmouth. It chronicles the lives of the kings of the Britons in a chronological narrative spanning a time of two thousand years, beginning with the Trojans founding the British nation and continuing until the Anglo-Saxons assumed control of much of Britain around the 7th century. It is one of the central pieces of the Matter of Britain.

It has little value as history – when events described, such as Julius Caesar's invasions of Britain, can be corroborated from contemporary histories, Geoffrey's accounts can be seen to be wildly inaccurate – but is a valuable piece of medieval literature, which contains the earliest known version of the story of King Lear and his three daughters, and introduced non-Welsh-speakers to the legend of King Arthur.

Contents

Contents

The Historia begins with the Trojan Aeneas, who according to Roman legend settled in Italy after the Trojan War. His great-grandson Brutus is banished, and, after a period of wandering, is directed by the goddess Diana to settle on an island in the western ocean, which he names "Britain" after himself.

The story continues chronologically, taking in such rulers as Bladud, who uses magic and even tries to fly; Leir, who divides his kingdom among his three daughters according to how much they profess to love him, a story which Shakespeare used as the basis of his tragedy King Lear; and Dunvallo Molmutius, who codifies the Molmutine Laws. Dunvallo's sons, Belinus and Brennius, fight a civil war before being reconciled, and proceed to sack Rome (based on the sack of Rome in 390 BC by the Gallic leader Brennus).

Caesar's invasions of Britain are opposed by Cassibelanus. There is a brief notice of a king called Kymbelinus, on whom Shakespeare based his play Cymbeline. Then Claudius invades, opposed by Kymbelinus's sons Guiderius and Arvirargus. The line of British kings continues under Roman rule, and includes Lucius, Britain's first Christian king, and several Roman figures, including the emperor Constantine I, the usurper Allectus and the military commander Asclepiodotus.

After the Romans leave, Vortigern comes to power, and invites the Saxons under Hengist and Horsa to fight for him as mercenaries, but they rise against him, and Britain remains in a state of war under Aurelius Ambrosius and his brother Uther Pendragon, assisted by the wizard Merlin. Uther's son Arthur defeats the Saxons so severely that they cease to be a threat until after his death. In the meantime, Arthur conquers most of northern Europe and ushers in a period of peace and prosperity that lasts until the Roman emperor Lucius Tiberius demands that Britain once again pay tribute to Rome. Arthur defeats Lucius in Gaul, but his nephew Modred seizes the throne in his absence. Arthur returns and kills Modred, but, mortally wounded, he is carried off to the isle of Avalon, and hands the kingdom to his cousin Constantine.

With Arthur gone, the Saxons return, and become more and more powerful. The line of British kings continues until the death of Cadwallader, after which the Saxons become the rulers of Britain.

Sources

Geoffrey claimed to have translated the Historia into Latin from "a very ancient book in the British tongue", given to him by Walter, Archdeacon of Oxford, but few modern scholars take this claim seriously ( see: Brut y Brenhinedd#Brut Tysilio and Geoffrey's putative British source) .[1] Much of the work appears to be derived from Gildas's 6th century polemic The Ruin of Britain, Bede's 8th century Ecclesiastical History of the English People, the 9th century History of the Britons ascribed to Nennius, the 10th century Welsh Annals, medieval Welsh genealogies (such as the Harleian Genealogies) and king-lists, the poems of Taliesin, the Welsh tale Culhwch and Olwen, and some of the medieval Welsh Saint's Lives,[1] expanded and turned into a continuous narrative by Geoffrey's own imagination.

Influence

The history of Geoffrey forms the basis for much British lore and literature as well as being a rich source of material for Welsh bards. It became tremendously popular during the High Middle Ages, revolutionising views of British history before and during the Anglo-Saxon period despite the criticism of such writers as William of Newburgh and Gerald of Wales. The prophecies of Merlin in particular were often drawn on in later periods, for instance by both sides in the issue of English influence over Scotland under Edward I and his successors.

The Historia was quickly translated into Norman French verse by Wace (the Roman de Brut) in 1155; into Middle English verse by Layamon (the Brut) in the early 13th century; and into a number of different Welsh prose versions by the end of the 13th century,[2] collectively known as Brut y Brenhinedd. One variant of the Brut y Brenhinedd, the so-called Brut Tysilio, was proposed in 1917 by the archaeologist William Flinders Petrie to be the ancient British book that Geoffrey translated,[3] although the Brut itself claims to have been translated from Latin by Walter of Oxford, based on his own earlier translation from Welsh to Latin.[4] Monmouth's work is greatly important because it brought the Welsh culture into British society and made it acceptable. It is also the first record we have of the great figure King Lear, and the beginning of the mythical King Arthur figure.

For many centuries, the Historia was accepted at face value, and much of its material was incorporated into Holinshed's 16th century Chronicles.

Modern historians have regarded the Historia as a work of fiction with some factual information contained within. John Morris in The Age of Arthur calls it a "deliberate spoof," although this is based on misidentifying Walter, archdeacon of Oxford, as Walter Map, a satirical writer who lived a century later.[5]

It continues to have an influence on popular culture e.g. Mary Stewart's Merlin novels, and the TV film Merlin contain large elements taken from the Historia.

Manuscript tradition and textual history

Two hundred and fifteen medieval manuscripts of the Historia survive, dozens of them copied before the end of the twelfth century. Even among the earliest manuscripts a large number of textual variants, such as the so-called 'First Variant', can be discerned. These are reflected in the three possible prefaces to the work and in the presence or absence of certain episodes and phrases. Certain variants may be due to 'authorial' additions to different early copies, but most probably reflect early attempts to alter, add to or edit the text.

Unfortunately, the task of disentangling these variants and establishing Geoffrey's original text is long and complex, and the extent of the difficulties surrounding the text has been established only recently.

Notes

  1. ^ a b Lewis Thorpe, Introduction to The History of the Kings of Britain, Penguin, 1966, pp. 14-19
  2. ^ A. O. H. Jarman, Geoffrey of Monmouth, University of Wales Press, 1965, p. 17.
  3. ^ Sir William Flinders Petrie, Neglected British History, 1917
  4. ^ William R. Cooper, Chronicle of the Early Britons (pdf), 2002, p. 68
  5. ^ John Morris. The Age of Arthur: A History of the British Isles from 350 to 650. Barnes & Noble Books: New York. 1996 (originally 1973). ISBN 0-7607-0243-8

References

  • John Jay Parry and Robert Caldwell. Geoffrey of Monmouth in Arthurian Literature in the Middle Ages, Roger S. Loomis (ed.). Clarendon Press: Oxford University. 1959. ISBN 0-19-811588-1
  • Brynley F. Roberts, Geoffrey of Monmouth and Welsh Historical Tradition, Nottingham Medieval Studies, 20 (1976), 29-40.
  • J.S.P. Tatlock. The Legendary History of Britain: Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia Regum Britanniae and its early vernacular versions. University of California Press. Berkeley. 1950.
  • N. Wright, ed., The Historia regum Britannie of Geoffrey of Monmouth. 1, Bern, Burgerbibliothek, MS. 568 (Cambridge, 1984)
  • N. Wright, ed., The historia regum Britannie of Geoffrey of Monmouth. 2, The first variant version : a critical edition (Cambridge, 1988)
  • J. C. Crick, The historia regum Britannie of Geoffrey of Monmouth. 3, A summary catalogue of the manuscripts (Cambridge, 1989)
  • J. C. Crick, The historia regum Britannie of Geoffrey of Monmouth. 4, Dissemination and reception in the later Middle Ages (Cambridge, 1991)
  • J. Hammer, ed., Historia regum Britanniae. A variant version edited from manuscripts (Cambridge, MA, 1951)
  • A. Griscom and J. R. Ellis, ed., The Historia regum Britanniæ of Geoffrey of Monmouth with contributions to the study of its place in early British history (London, 1929)
  • M. D. Reeve, 'The transmission of the Historia regum Britanniae ', in Journal of Medieval Latin 1 (1991), 73--117
  • Edmond Faral, La légende Arthurienne: études et documents, 3 vols. (Paris, 1929)
  • R. W. Leckie, The passage of dominion : Geoffrey of Monmouth and the periodization of insular history in the twelfth century (Toronto, 1981)

External links

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Source material

Up to date as of January 22, 2010

From Wikisource

History of the Kings of Britain
by Geoffrey of Monmouth
Translation based on Aaron Thompson (1718), revised and corrected by J. A. Giles (1842)
Merlin dictating his poems, from a 13th century French manuscript
Wikipedia logo Wikipedia has more on:
Historia Regum Britanniae.

Annotated

Wikified and annotated with reference to other translations, sources and analogues

Plain text

As printed in Giles's Six Old English Chronicles, with Giles's chapter headings and footnotes, no wikilinks and no added annotation

Secondary

  • Introduction from Six Old English Chronicles (1848), by J. A. Giles 50%.svg

Bibliography

  • Wm. R. Cooper (2002), Chronicle of the Early Britons
  • J.A. Giles (1948), Six Old English Chronicles
  • A. O. H. Jarman (1966), Geoffrey of Monmouth
  • Owen Jones, Edward Williams & William Owen Pughe (eds, 1870), The Myvyrian Archaiology of Wales
  • Henry Lewis (1974), Brut Dingestow
  • John Morris (1980), Arthurian Period Sources Vol 8: Nennius
  • Lewis Thorpe (1966), The History of the Kings of Britain

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