William of Malmesbury

Cotton MS Claudius C IX, f. 18r
The opening of William of Malmesbury’s Gesta Regum Anglorum (Deeds of the Kings of the English), British Library, Cotton MS Claudius C IX, f. 18r

Biography

William of Malmesbury was an Anglo-Norman monk and historian, principally known for writing the Gesta Regum Anglorum (Deeds of the Kings of the English), a chronicle of the early history of England. 

Monk of Malmesbury Abbey

William spent much of his life as a monk of Malmesbury Abbey in England, probably entering the monastery when he was only a child. By the 1120s, he had become a cantor, with the responsibility of leading the community in the liturgy and prayers. He was also in charge of the Abbey’s library, amassing a huge collection of books during the course of his life, including many works of Classical and late Antique authors. In 1140, he was offered the role of abbot, which he declined. 

Historical writings

William was a prolific writer of history. His earliest known work was the Liber pontificalis, a history of the popes. Then, supposedly at the request of Queen Matilda (b. c. 1080, d. 1118), he wrote the Gesta Regum Anglorum, an ambitious chronicle of England from Roman times, through the reigns of the Anglo-Saxon kings and the Norman Conquest of 1066, continuing until the accession of King Henry I of England (r. 1100–1135), Matilda’s husband. He followed this with a companion piece, the Gesta pontificum Anglorum (Deeds of the English Bishops), a history of the English Church, and De antiquitate Glastonie ecclesie (On the history of the Church of Glastonbury), as well as a number of treatises and commentaries, and a collection of lives of English saints, all of which were widely read. The most influential of his writings was the Gesta Regum, however, which gained a substantial readership on the Continent as well as in southern England, and became a major source for historians and chroniclers until the end of the medieval period. William continued to write until his death in around 1143. 

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