William of Malmesbury

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Doug Moeller EN 361 Medieval Lit. Version 3.0

William of Malmesbury

William of Malmesbury (c. 1090-c.1143), English chronicler and Benedictine monk, is lauded by many, including John Milton, as the best chronicler of the 12th century due to the importance he placed on the use of documentation and his vivacious writing style. He was born in Wiltshire to a Norman father and an Anglo-Saxon mother, a fact which he claimed as a guarantee of his unbiased writing. He lived in England his whole life as the librarian of Malmesbury Abbey, where he produced the majority of his important works.


William was educated primarily at Malmesbury Abbey, in such subjects as logic, physics, moral philosophy, and history. During the course of his studies, he collected the different histories of foreign countries, which inspired him to write his own account of the history of England. He states within the preface of this history an admiration of Bede, calling him “a man of singular learning and modesty”, states his intent to fill in the two hundred and twenty-three-year gap following the death of Bede, and voices his intent to re-dignify the profession of historian. Around 1120, William produced the first edition of his Gesta regum, a five-book history of the kings of England which spanned from A.D. 449-1120. He later edited and expanded it until the year 1127, releasing a second edition dedicated to Earl Robert of Glaucester. In 1125, he embarked on a similar history and released the Gesta pontificum, or history of the English Bishops. William formed an acquaintance with the Bishop of Salisbury, and possibly this acquaintance coupled with the positive reception of his Gesta regum earned him the offered position of Abbot of Malmesbury Abbey in 1140. William, however, preferred his duties as librarian and scholar, and graciously declined the offer. He continued his chronicles with the Historia Novellum, or modern history, which was divided into three books and stretched until the year 1142, with the promise of more to come. Unfortunately, he died before that could occur, so we will speak no more of him. It is true that William of Malmesbury was known for strong documentation and clear, engaging writing style. However, he had little respect for, and in fact refused to follow the traditional annalistic form. Some scholars criticize him for this, saying it resulted in less than satisfactory chronology and careless arrangement of material; he often related stories that had little connection to the main narrative, and his critiques were often less than insightful. But his works are still considered invaluable, and despite these shortcomings, William of Malmesbury remains one of the most celebrated English chroniclers of the 12th century.

Surviving Works:

• William of Malmesbury: Gesta Regum Anglorum (Deeds of the English Kings), Vol I, Edited and Translated by R. A. B. Mynors, Oxford University Press, 1998.

• William of Malmesbury: The Deeds of the Bishops of England [Gesta Pontificum Anglorum], Translated by David Preest. 2002.

• William of Malmesbury: Historia Novella (The Contemporary History), Edited by Edmund King, translated by K. R. Potter, Oxford University Press. 1999.

Lost Works:

A Vita Sancti Patricii

Miracula Sancti Benigni

Itinerarium Johannis abbatis


William of Malmesbury, Chronicle of the Kings of England. Translation by Rev. John Sharpe, 1815. J.A. Giles, editor. London: George Bell and Sons, 1904.

Ward & Trent, et al. Latin Chroniclers of the 11th to the 13th Centuries: William of Malmesbury. The Cambridge History of English and American Literature. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1907–21; New York:, 2000 ( 2008.

Galloway, Andrew. Writing History in England: The Cambridge history of medieval English literature. David Wallace, editor. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

Otter, Monika. Inventiones: Fiction and Referentiality in Twelfth Century English Historical Writing. Chapel Hill University of North Carolina Press, 1996.

Kerbrat, Pierre. "William of Malmesbury". Encyclopedia of the Middle Ages. André Vauchez, editor. Oxford University Press. 2001. ( 2008.

Ruffalo, Laura. “William of Malmesbury”. Medieval England: An Encyclopedia. Paul E. Szarmach, M. Teresa Tavormina, Joel T. Rosenthal, editors. New York: Garland Publications, 1998.

Peer Reviews

You have a lot of information here, which is great. Your sentences, however, are much too long and need to be condensed. This will improve the overall flow of the article. Great research. Grade: A-

Great work, yet I would recommend dividing the information up a bit more. Decide which areas of his biography are most important, and spend a bit of time on each, thus diversifying the content a bit and extending the focus on each part. Grade: A-

Great research, interesting subject matter, and good organizaiton despite the large blocks you wrote in! Again, divy up things a little bit and you should be on your way to a great wiki article! Grade: A-

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