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Gesta Pontificum Anglorum: The History of the English Bishops, Vol. 1: Text and Translation (review)

From: The Catholic Historical Review
Volume 94, Number 3, July 2008
pp. 553-554 | 10.1353/cat.0.0145

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William, Benedictine monk of Malmesbury Abbey (c. 1090–1142?), is among the most important and most widely cited of twelfth-century English chroniclers and also among the most admired. He wrote the first comprehensive history of England since that of Bede, the Gesta Regum Anglorum, and left a remarkable series of surviving works and manuscripts reflecting his own polymathic learning. The Gesta Pontificum Anglorum is in some sense a counterpart to the earlier Gesta Regum Anglorum in its scope and ambition, for it is a history of the English Church that could be set beside what Malmesbury had earlier written about the English monarchy. It is a rich and complex work, consisting of a series of accounts of each of the English bishoprics from the Conversion to Malmesbury's own time, in which he recounted the episcopal succession and the saints of each diocese (as he explains, pp. 242–43). This conception of church history obviously owed much to his hero, Bede, as did some of his other views, notably his partiality toward the see of Canterbury. It is, however, the scope of the material that is the true interest of the Gesta Pontificum Anglorum, for often this kind of material on the history and traditions of individual churches, and local recollections about eminent churchmen, survives nowhere else. Unlike the Gesta Regum Anglorum, however, this work was not undertaken at the behest of eminent patrons outside his monastery, for it lacks a dedicatory letter, and it seems that Malmesbury thought that monks of his own house would be his audience; thus, he wrote of "our monastery" (pp. 434–35), and included as the last book an account of St. Aldhelm, most hallowed of the Malmesbury saints. Later copies made for other churches often excluded this component (pp. xiii–xv). Unusually for a text of this date, a copy survives in Malmesbury's own hand (now Oxford, Magdalen College, ms. lat. 172), and this is the basis of the text presented here (p. xxvii). This manuscript, however, represents a later revision of the text, and the editor demonstrates (pp. xiii–xix) that other, nonauthorial, manuscripts reflect earlier stages in its evolution. The revisions that Malmesbury introduced in the latest versions of the text usually comprised the removal of outspoken comment and scurrilous gossip about the failings of eminent churchmen, and they often have a rather anodyne character in comparison with the bracing vigor of some of the opinions in the earlier versions. For example, Malmesbury's Cantuarian sympathies inspired his first account of the early twelfth-century archbishops of York, so that he writes of the immoderate appetites of Archbishop Thomas II and his death as a consequence of an irreverent handling of the relics of St. Oswald (pp. 398–401); in the revised version of the work, all this was simply omitted. In such cases, the different versions are clearly presented in parallel columns, so that they can readily be compared. Overall, the edition makes this important text available in a more readily usable form than the previous one, that of 1870 by N. E. S. A. Hamilton, just as the translation is highly readable and compares well with the only previous translation, that by David Preest (2002). Introduction and commentary to the text will be published in a second volume, and those will be of the greatest importance, as the fruit of the editor's work on Malmesbury over a number of years. It is perhaps unfortunate that those will be published separately, but that does not detract from the usefulness and importance of this publication, which is certain to become the standard edition of this work.

Copyright © 2008 The Catholic University of America Press
Project MUSE® - View Citation
Nicholas Karn. "Gesta Pontificum Anglorum: The History of the English Bishops, Vol. 1: Text and Translation (review)." The Catholic Historical Review 94.3 (2008): 553-554. Project MUSE. Web. 24 Jan. 2013. <http://muse.jhu.edu/>.
Karn, N.(2008). Gesta Pontificum Anglorum: The History of the English Bishops, Vol. 1: Text and Translation (review). The Catholic Historical Review 94(3), 553-554. The Catholic University of America Press. Retrieved January 24, 2013, from Project MUSE database...



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