William Malmsberyiskiy

William Malmsberyiskiy

12th-century English historian from Wiltshire, South West England.
Country: Great Britain

Biography of William of Malmesbury

William of Malmesbury was an English historian of the 12th century, hailing from Wiltshire in Southwest England. Little information about his life has been preserved, and his own writings serve as the main source of biographical data. His approximate birth date is determined to be around 1090, based on a mention in a work written on the death of Henry I in 1135, stating that he was forty years old and had long been involved in history. In the prologue to the Third Book of "The History of the English Kings," William also mentions his Norman ancestry on his father's side and Anglo-Saxon ancestry on his mother's side.

In 1105, he was sent for education to Malmesbury Abbey in Wiltshire, where he received a comprehensive education that included studies in logic, medicine, and physics. William paid special attention to ethics and history. As the librarian of the monastery for a certain period of his life, he had an excellent opportunity to study the works of ancient authors and gather materials about the lives of prominent figures in English history, which inspired him to create his own historical writings. It appears that William spent his entire life at Malmesbury Abbey, where most of his works were written, except for a brief period at Glastonbury Abbey, about which he wrote a book called "On the Antiquities of the Glastonbury Church" in 1139.

He passed away in 1142, shortly after completing the writing of the third book of "The New History." William of Malmesbury wrote about twenty historical, hagiographical, and theological works. His main works include "The History of the English Kings" (Latin: "Gesta regum Anglorum") and "The New History" (Latin: "Historia novella").

The first edition of "The History of the English Kings" was published in 1125. This monumental work, consisting of five books, describes the history of England from the last days of Roman rule over Britain to the mid-12th century. Essentially, William's work is the first continuous narrative of English history since Bede's "Ecclesiastical History of the English People." The first book of "The History of the English Kings" covers the events starting from the arrival of the Anglo-Saxons in Britain and ends with the reign of Egbert, who united the Heptarchy into one kingdom. The second book describes the period of Anglo-Saxon dynasty rule. The third book is dedicated to William the Conqueror. The fourth book narrates the reign of William Rufus and the events of the First Crusade. The fifth book is based on contemporary material and focuses on the reign of Henry I.

"The New History," consisting of three books, is a continuation of "The History of the English Kings." The main theme of the work is the civil war between Stephen of Blois and Matilda, the daughter of the late Henry I. William's description of these events is remarkably accurate, as he drew information directly from high-ranking participants in the conflict. Many modern scholars agree that William of Malmesbury stood out among his contemporaries for his critical approach to source selection, meticulousness in distinguishing unreliable material, and a striving for objectivity. This is particularly evident in "The New History" where William, despite considering Robert of Gloucester, Matilda's chief military commander, as his friend and patron, maintains a neutral point of view.

William's works are also characterized by their excellent Latin, adorned with numerous excerpts from ancient and contemporary authors, speeches by key historical figures, folklore, and proverbs. He places great emphasis on remarkable personalities in the historical narrative, with descriptions characterized by deep psychological analysis and lack of idealization. The historical material in William's works is presented with a high degree of systematization and attempts to identify the objective causes of the events described. His works were highly regarded by his contemporaries, as evidenced by the abundance of quotations and references to them in the works of many of his colleagues. To this day, "The History of the English Kings," "The New History," and his other works are of significant interest both from the perspective of 12th-century historiography and as sources for the history of England during that time.