- The Date of Geoffrey Gaimar’s Estoire Des Engleis, the Connections of his Patrons, and the Politics of Stephen’s Reign
Geoffrey Gaimar's Estoire des Engleis is widely regarded as the oldest extant history written in French. According to Ian Short, it was intended "to provide a vast panorama of the Celto-British, Anglo-Saxon, and Anglo-Norman dynasties in the British Isles from Trojan times until the death of William Rufus."1 Its author, about whom very little is known, was possibly a secular clerk acquainted with life in court circles, who may have begun writing in Hampshire and finished in Lincolnshire, and who wrote for Constance, wife of Ralf Fitz Gilbert, a Hampshire and Lincolnshire landholder.2 The earlier section of the work, which has not survived, apparently comprised an Estoire des Troiiens and an Estoire des Bretuns, and was probably based to some extent on the Historia Regum Britannie (HRB) of Geoffrey of Monmouth.3 The surviving portion, covering the history of England from the time of King Cerdic down to 1100, largely follows and translates the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle as far as 959. Thereafter, it is based on a greater variety of sources, some of which were probably oral.4
Although modern scholars have often criticized the Estoire's value and veracity as a source for the political history of England, its significance in other areas of scholarly investigation has long been, and is increasingly being, acknowledged.5 In view of this and the widespread recognition of Gaimar's work as the first history written in French, establishing the date of its composition as accurately as possible is all the more important. Relatively little attention has been devoted to this subject since the publication of the most recent edition of the Estoire in 1960. There Alexander Bell proposed that the composition of the Estoire took place towards the end of the period 1135-40.6 In an article published in 1994, Ian Short argued for a narrower period of March 1136-April 1137.7 And there has been widespread acceptance of one or the other of these two dating periods.8 There are good reasons, however, for [End Page 23] questioning the dating arguments advanced by Bell and Short, and these will be discussed in the opening sections of this article.9 Employing a common practice used in the field of charter scholarship, the article will then establish more secure outside dating limits for the composition of the Estoire and, inside these limits, narrower dates within which the work is most likely to have been composed. The outside limits are March 1135-April ca. 1180 or March 1135-April 1159, and the narrower ones are ca. 1141-1150. The argument underpinning this re-dating of the Estoire casts new light on the significance of Gaimar's praise for members of a number of very powerful aristocratic families, the connections between these families and Gaimar's literary patrons, and the way in which such links may have influenced Gaimar's writing. In doing so, it brings us closer to understanding the identity and literary purposes of the Estoire's enigmatic author.
The Case for Dating the Estoire to 1135-1140
Bell's argument for proposing that the Estoire was composed towards the end of the period 1135-40, elements of which were advanced independently by P. A. Becker, has five main strands.10 They are as follows:
1. Gaimar probably used of a copy of Geoffrey of Monmouth's HRB borrowed by Ralf Fitz Gilbert and his wife Constance from Walter Espec, lord of Wark (Northumb.), Helmsley (Yorks.) and estates in Bedfordshire, who acquired it from Robert earl of Gloucester. According to Bell, Walter's borrowing of the book from Robert is more likely to have occurred before rather than after the outbreak of the "dynastic struggle" in 1138, when these two lords took opposite sides; and Gaimar may have begun work on the Estoire before becoming aware that the HRB existed.
2. Bell considered that Gaimar's use of the phrase "Ore avom pes e menum joie" (Now we are at peace/reconciled, and let us be glad [line 6521]), "is 'more appropriate...