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Geoffrey of Monmouth

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Geoffrey of MonmouthEdit

Geoffrey monmouth

Geoffrey of Monmouth

Brief BiographyEdit

Not much is known about Geoffrey of Monmouth but he is believed to have been born 1090 and 1105 in the town of Monmouth which is situated in the south of the borderlands of Welsh Marches. There is some debate concerning Geoffrey’s actual lineage but the prevailing consensus is that Geoffrey was born into one of the Breton families who were settled in the Welsh Marches by their Norman allies following the Norman conquest of Britain in 1066. Despite growing up on the Welsh border of England, Geoffrey moved to England, specifically Oxford, where he interacted with and became a courtier to the local Norman administrative officials. Scholars have debated over Geoffrey’s true political alliance due his Breton heritage and favorable treatment of the ancient Britons who became the Welsh. Some scholars like Karen Jankulak have argued Geoffrey’s pro-Welsh sympathies at length but it is to be noted that while Geoffrey might be sympathetic to the Welsh, he was also a member of the Norman court and many of his works were dedicated to the Anglo Normal elite.[1] Geoffrey was appointed Bishop of St. Asaph’s in northern Wales in 1152 but never visited his bishopric before dying in 1155. [2]

Major WorksEdit

The Prophecies of Merlin—Dedicated to Alexander, Bishop of Lincoln in 1135

The History of the Kings of Britain—Dedicated to Robert, Earl of Gloucester and Waleran, Count of Meulan, published in 1138.

The Life of Merlin—Dedicated to Robert de Chesney, written circa 1150


History of the Kings of BritainEdit

Of Geoffrey’s works, The History of the Kings of Britain is by far the most well know and had the largest impact on literature and historiography. The literary and historiographical significance of this text cannot be overstated. The History of the Kings of Britain begins to chronicle the history of the Kings of Britain from the mythical founding under Brutus, who liberates his fellow Trojans from their Greek oppressors following the Trojan War of antiquity. Geoffrey proceeds to record his chronicle of British history through the failed British attempt to withstand the Anglo-Saxons that Geoffrey temporally placed in the seventh century. Geoffrey’s narrative was perceived to be historical truth for several centuries following its original publication. This is not to say that The History of the Kings of Britain was always perceived as factual. Several of Geoffrey’s own contemporaries like William of Newburgh and Gerald of Wales condemned his text from its inception. Despite these critics, Geoffrey’s History proved to be immensely popular in that his narrative is present in over two hundred extant manuscripts that date between the twelfth and sixteenth century, a third of which were potentially written by the end of twelfth century.[3] To put this popularity in perspective, only eighty or so manuscripts survive that contain Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales which was written in the late fourteenth century.[4]The extreme popularity of The History of the Kings of Britain can probably be seen best in the literary works that are indebted to Geoffrey’s chronicle for their source material: The Matter of Britain and the legends of King Arthur as a whole, and William Shakespeare’s King Lear are all heavily dependent on The History for their existence. There are also several primary episodes from Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain that are thematically linked to Mary Shelley’s The Last Man and are incorporated into its narrative structure, namely the colophon the subsequent stories of Belinus and Brennius, Maximianus, Vortigern, and Ambrosius Aurelianus.


ReferencesEdit

[1] See Jankulak, Karen. Geoffrey of Monmouth. Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2011. First published in 2010 by University of Wales press for further reading.

[2] Michael Faletra 9-14.

[3] Michael A. Faletra, “Introduction” The History of the Kings of Britain, ed. and trans. Michael A. Faletra (Broadview, 2008), 8-9.; Michael D. Reeve and Neil Wright, “Introduction” The History of the Kings of Britain: An Edition and Translation of the De gestis Britonum, (Woodbridge: The Boydell Press, 2009).

[4] Roy Vance Ramsey, “The Hengwrt and Ellesmere Manuscripts of the “Canterbury Tales,”” Studies in Bibliography 35 (1982): 147.

Works Cited and Further ReadingEdit

Faletra, Michael A. “Introduction” to The History of the Kings of Britain, by Geoffrey of

Monmouth, 8-34. Translated and edited by Michael A. Faletra. Broadview, 2008.

Jankulak, Karen. Geoffrey of Monmouth. Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2011. First

published in 2010 by University of Wales Press. 

Ramsey, Roy Vance. “The Hengwrt and Ellesmere Manuscripts of the “Canterbury Tales.””

Studies in Bibliography 35 (1982): 133-154.

Reeve, Michael D. and Neil Wright. “Introduction.” In The History of the Kings of Britain: An

Edition and Translation of the De gestis Britonum. vii-lxxvi. Edited by Michael D. Reeve. Translated

by Neil Wright.  Woodbridge: The Boydell Press, 2009. First published in 2007 by The Boydell Press.


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