Orderic Vitalis was born on 16th February 1075, and baptized on the Saturday of Easter (4th April), at Atcham, near Shrewsbury. He reveals these biographical details in, his masterwork, the Historia Ecclesiastica (Ecclesiastical History). His mother was evidently English – he says nothing about her, but refers to himself as an Englishman. His father, Odelerius, was French – from Orléans – and was a priest in the household of Roger de Montgomery, the Norman earl of Shrewsbury. Odelerius despatched ten-year-old Orderic to Normandy, to become a monk at the monastery of Saint-Evroul. Father and son never met again. Orderic – who had been named after the priest who baptized him – says that the Normans gave him the name Vitalis because his English name “sounded harsh” to them.
Initially, the Historia Ecclesiastica was intended to be a chronicle of the monastery of Saint-Evroul, but it developed into a general history in thirteen books, which was to occupy Orderic from c.1114 to 1141 (“worn out with age and infirmity, I long to bring this book to an end” – Epilogue, written in, probably September, 1141).
Books III and IV deal with the period around the Norman Conquest of England. Book III was actually the first of the thirteen books to be written, and its composition was apparently spread-over about a decade – from c.1114 to 1123/4.[*] In Book IV, probably written in 1125, Orderic, in effect, supplies the otherwise lost ending to the Gesta Guillelmi of William of Poitiers.[*]
Translation by Marjorie Chibnall