FROM DOT TO DOMESDAY
WILLIAM OF MALMESBURY – he was a monk at Malmesbury Abbey – was, from clues in his writing, born round about 1090.* One of his parents (probably his father) was Norman, the other English.
“A long period has elapsed since, as well through the care of my parents as my own industry, I became familiar with books. This pleasure possessed me from childhood; this source of delight has grown with my years ... I gave, indeed, my attention to various branches of literature, but in different degrees. Logic, for instance, which gives arms to eloquence, I contended myself with barely hearing: medicine, which ministers to the health of the body, I studied with somewhat more attention: but having scrupulously examined the several branches of ethics, I bow down to its majesty, because it spontaneously unveils itself to those who study it, and directs their minds to moral practice: history more especially, which, by a certain agreeable recapitulation of past events, excites its readers, by example, to frame their lives to the pursuit of good, or to aversion from evil. When, therefore, at my own personal expense, I had procured some historians of foreign nations, I proceeded, during my domestic leisure, to inquire if anything concerning our own country could be found worthy of handing down to posterity. Hence it arose that, not content with the writings of ancient times, I began myself to compose; not, indeed, in order to display my learning, which is comparatively nothing, but to bring to light events lying concealed in the confused mess of antiquity. In consequence, rejecting vague opinions, I have studiously sought for chronicles far and near, though I confess I have scarcely profited anything by this industry; for, perusing them all, I still remained poor in information, though I ceased not my researches as long as I could find anything to read.”
‘Gesta Regum Anglorum’ Book II Preface
William's two major works are the ‘Gesta Regum Anglorum’ (Deeds of the Kings of England), in five books, and the ‘Gesta Pontificum Anglorum’ (Deeds of the Bishops of England), also in five books. He seems to have worked on them simultaneously, apparently completing both in 1125 (though he would later revise them). The third book of his sequel to the ‘Gesta Regum’, the ‘Historia Novella’ (Modern History), concludes with events of 1142. William declares his intention of continuing the work – but he never did. It is usually assumed that he died c.1143.
Translation by John Sharpe, revised by Joseph Stevenson
William's date of birth is frequently stated as c.1095 – based on the interpretation of remarks he makes in his ‘Commentary on Jeremiah’. There are other indications, though, that this is rather late. A date c.1090 seems, perhaps, more likely.