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British History by Nennius

British History by Nennius

Medium: Ink and pigments on vellum

Date: 1125

Shelfmark: Cotton MS Vespasian D XXI

Item number: f.1r

Length: 19.3

Width: 13.5

Scale: Centimetres

Genre: Manuscript

Who was Nennius? Billed as the author of a medieval best-seller, 'The 'Historia Britonum' ('British History'), he probably never existed. The 'British History' grew bit by bit from an original core and mutated fluidly through rewritings over several centuries. Patterned after Irish chronologies and generously enlivened with legends, it was attributed to both Nennius and Gildas to give it intellectual authority. It proved important: it was the only early medieval history of Wales. Geoffrey of Monmouth drew upon it for his 'History of the British Kings' because it preserved ancient legends of the British, and it contains the earliest mention of the name Arthur.

The large letter 'B' at the top of the page introduces the subject with a section on the origins of the British and Irish, together with a geographical description. It begins, 'The island of Britain is so called from one Brutus, a Roman consul.' Brutus was the fabled first king of Britain or Albion and, in later medieval romance literature, he became the basis of Layamon's 'Brut'.

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