|Historia regum Britanniae|
|The History of the Kings of Britain|
|Author(s)||Geoffrey of Monmouth|
|Ascribed to||Geoffrey claims to have translated "a very ancient book in the British tongue" into Latin|
|Dedicated to||Robert, earl of Gloucester and Waleran, count of Meulan|
|Manuscript(s)||215 manuscripts, notably Bern, Burgerbibliothek, MS. 568|
|Subject||Legendary kings of the Britons|
|Setting||Mainly Great Britain|
|Personages||See, e.g., List of legendary kings of Britain|
|Text||Historia regum Britanniae at Wikisource|
|Adapted and translated, e.g., by Wace, Layamon and the authors of the Brut y Brenhinedd .|
Historia regum Britanniae (The History of the Kings of Britain), originally called De gestis Britonum (On the Deeds of the Britons), is a pseudohistorical account of British history, written around 1136 by Geoffrey of Monmouth. It chronicles the lives of the kings of the Britons over the course of two thousand years, beginning with the Trojans founding the British nation and continuing until the Anglo-Saxons assumed control of much of Britain around the 7th century. It is one of the central pieces of the Matter of Britain.
Although taken as historical well into the 16th century,it is now considered to have no value as history. When events described, such as Julius Caesar's invasions of Britain, can be corroborated from contemporary histories, Geoffrey's account can be seen to be wildly inaccurate. It remains, however, a valuable piece of medieval literature, which contains the earliest known version of the story of King Lear and his three daughters, and helped popularise the legend of King Arthur.
Geoffrey starts the book with a statement of his purpose in writing the history: "I have not been able to discover anything at all on the kings who lived here before the Incarnation of Christ, or indeed about Arthur and all the others who followed on after the Incarnation. Yet the deeds of these men were such that they deserve to be praised for all time." He claims that he was given a source for this period by Archdeacon Walter of Oxford, who presented him with a "certain very ancient book written in the British language" from which he has translated his history. He also cites Gildas and Bede as sources. Then follows a dedication to Robert, earl of Gloucester and Waleran, count of Meulan, whom he enjoins to use their knowledge and wisdom to improve his tale.
The Historia itself begins with the Trojan Aeneas, who, according to the Aeneid of Virgil, settled in Italy after the Trojan War. His great-grandson Brutus is banished, and, after a period of wandering, is directed by the goddess Diana to settle on an island in the western ocean. Brutus lands at Totnes and names the island, then called Albion, "Britain" after himself. Brutus defeats the giants who are the only inhabitants of the island, and establishes his capital, Troia Nova ("New Troy"), on the banks of the Thames; later it is known as Trinovantum, and eventually renamed London.
When Brutus dies, his three sons, Locrinus, Kamber and Albanactus, divide the country between themselves; the three kingdoms are named Loegria, Kambria (North and West of the Severn to Humber) and Albany (Scotland). The story then progresses rapidly through the reigns of the descendants of Locrinus, including Bladud, who uses magic and even tries to fly, but dies in the process.
Bladud's son Leir reigns for sixty years. He has no sons, so upon reaching old age he decides to divide his kingdom among his three daughters, Goneril, Regan and Cordelia. To decide who should get the largest share, he asks his daughters how much they love him. Goneril and Regan give extravagant answers, but Cordelia answers simply and sincerely; angered, he gives Cordelia no land. Goneril and Regan are to share half the island with their husbands, the Dukes of Albany and Cornwall. Cordelia marries Aganippus, King of the Franks, and departs for Gaul. Soon Goneril and Regan and their husbands rebel and take the whole kingdom. After Leir has had all his attendants taken from him, he begins to regret his actions towards Cordelia and travels to Gaul. Cordelia receives him compassionately and restores his royal robes and retinue. Aganippus raises a Gaulish army for Leir, who returns to Britain, defeats his sons-in-law and regains the kingdom. Leir rules for three years and then dies; Cordelia inherits the throne and rules for five years before Marganus and Cunedagius, her sisters' sons, rebel against her. They imprison Cordelia; grief-stricken, she kills herself. Marganus and Cunedagius divide the kingdom between themselves, but soon quarrel and go to war with each other. Cunedagius eventually kills Marganus in Wales and retains the whole kingdom, ruling for thirty-three years. He is succeeded by his son Rivallo.
A later descendant of Cunedagius, King Gorboduc, has two sons called Ferreux and Porrex. They quarrel and both are eventually killed, sparking a civil war. This leads to Britain being ruled by five kings, who keep attacking each other. Dunvallo Molmutius, the son of Cloten, the King of Cornwall, becomes pre-eminent. He eventually defeats the other kings and establishes his rule over the whole island. He is said to have "established the so-called Molmutine Laws which are still famous today among the English".
Dunvallo's sons, Belinus and Brennius, fight a civil war before being reconciled by their mother, and proceed to sack Rome. Victorious, Brennius remains in Italy, while Belinus returns to rule Britain.
Numerous brief accounts of successive kings follow. These include Lud, who renames Trinovantum "Kaerlud" after himself; this later becomes corrupted to London. Lud is succeeded by his brother, Cassibelanus, as Lud's sons Androgeus and Tenvantius are not yet of age. In recompense, Androgeus is made Duke of Kent and Trinovantum (London), and Tenvantius is made Duke of Cornwall.
After his conquest of Gaul, Julius Caesar looks over the sea and resolves to order Britain to swear obedience and pay tribute to Rome. His commands are answered by a letter of refusal from Cassivellaunus. Caesar sails a fleet to Britain, but he is overwhelmed by Cassivellaunus's army and forced to retreat to Gaul. Two years later he makes another attempt, but is again pushed back. Then Cassivellaunus quarrels with one of his dukes, Androgeus, who sends a letter to Caesar asking him to help avenge the duke's honour. Caesar invades once more and besieges Cassivellaunus on a hill. After several days Cassivellaunus offers to make peace with Caesar, and Androgeus, filled with remorse, goes to Caesar to plead with him for mercy. Cassivellaunus pays tribute and makes peace with Caesar, who then returns to Gaul.
Cassivelaunus dies and is succeeded by his nephew Tenvantius, as Androgeus has gone to Rome. Tenvantius is succeeded in turn by his son Kymbelinus, and then Kymbelinus's son Guiderius. Guiderius refuses to pay tribute to emperor Claudius, who then invades Britain. After Guiderius is killed in battle with the Romans, his brother Arvirargus continues the defence, but eventually agrees to submit to Rome, and is given the hand of Claudius's daughter Genvissa in marriage. Claudius returns to Rome, leaving the province under Arviragus's governorship.
The line of British kings continues under Roman rule, and includes Lucius, Britain's first Christian king, and several Roman figures, including the emperor Constantine I, the usurper Allectus and the military commander Asclepiodotus. When Octavius passes the crown to his son-in-law Maximianus, his nephew Conan Meriadoc is given rule of Brittany to compensate him for not succeeding. After a long period of Roman rule, the Romans decide they no longer wish to defend the island and depart. The Britons are immediately besieged by attacks from Picts, Scots and Danes, especially as their numbers have been depleted due to Conan colonizing Brittany and Maximianus using British troops for his campaigns. In desperation the Britons send letters to the general of the Roman forces, asking for help, but receive no reply (this passage borrows heavily from the corresponding section in Gildas' De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae ).
After the Romans leave, the Britons ask the King of Brittany (Armorica), Aldroenus, descended from Conan, to rule them. However, Aldroenus instead sends his brother Constantine to rule the Britons. After Constantine's death, Vortigern assists his eldest son Constans in succeeding, before enabling their murder and coming to power. Constantine's remaining sons Aurelius Ambrosius and Uther are too young to rule and are taken to safety in Armorica. Vortigern invites the Saxons under Hengist and Horsa to fight for him as mercenaries, but they rise against him. He loses control of much of his land and encounters Merlin.
At this point Geoffrey abruptly pauses his narrative by inserting a series of prophecies attributed to Merlin. Some of the prophecies act as an epitome of upcoming chapters of the Historia, while others are veiled allusions to historical people and events of the Norman world in the 11th–12th centuries. The remainder are obscure.
After Aurelius Ambrosius defeats and kills Vortigern, becoming king, Britain remains in a state of war under him and his brother Uther. They are both assisted by the wizard Merlin. At one point during the continuous string of battles, Ambrosius takes ill and Uther must lead the army for him. This allows an enemy assassin to pose as a physician and poison Ambrosius. When the king dies, a comet taking the form of a dragon's head (pendragon) appears in the night sky, which Merlin interprets as a sign that Ambrosius is dead and that Uther will be victorious and succeed him. So after defeating his latest enemies, Uther adds "Pendragon" to his name and is crowned king.
But another enemy strikes, forcing Uther to make war again. This time he is temporarily defeated, gaining final victory only with the help of Duke Gorlois of Cornwall. But while celebrating this victory with Gorlois, he falls in love with the duke's wife, Igerna. This leads to war between Uther Pendragon and Gorlois of Cornwall, during which Uther clandestinely lies with Igerna through the magic of Merlin. Arthur is conceived that night. Then Gorlois is killed and Uther marries Igerna. But he must war against the Saxons again. Although Uther ultimately triumphs, he dies after drinking water from a spring the Saxons had poisoned.
Uther's son Arthur assumes the throne and defeats the Saxons so severely that they cease to be a threat until after his death. In the meantime, Arthur conquers most of northern Europe and ushers in a period of peace and prosperity that lasts until the Romans, led by Lucius Hiberius, demands that Britain once again pay tribute to Rome. Arthur defeats Lucius in Gaul, intending to become Emperor, but in his absence, his nephew Mordred seduces and marries Guinevere and seizes the throne.
Arthur returns and kills Mordred at the Battle of Camlann, but, mortally wounded, he is carried off to the isle of Avalon, and hands the kingdom to his cousin Constantine, son of Cador and Duke of Cornwall.
The Saxons returned after Arthur's death, but would not end the line of British kings until the death of Cadwallader. Cadwallader is forced to flee Britain and requests the aid of King Alan of the Amoricans. However an angel's voice tells him the Britons will no longer rule and he should go to Rome. Cadwallader does so, dying there, though leaves his son and nephew to rule the remaining Britons. The remaining Britons are driven into Wales and the Saxon Athelstan becomes King of Loegria.
Geoffrey claimed to have translated the Historia into Latin from "a very ancient book in the British tongue", given to him by Walter, Archdeacon of Oxford.However, no modern scholars take this claim seriously. Much of the work appears to be derived from Gildas's 6th-century De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae , Bede's 8th-century Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum , the 9th-century Historia Brittonum ascribed to Nennius, the 10th-century Annales Cambriae , medieval Welsh genealogies (such as the Harleian Genealogies) and king-lists, the poems of Taliesin, the Welsh tale Culhwch and Olwen , and some of the medieval Welsh saints' lives, expanded and turned into a continuous narrative by Geoffrey's own imagination.
In an exchange of manuscript material for their own histories, Robert of Torigny gave Henry of Huntington a copy of Historia Regum Britanniae, which both Robert and Henry used uncritically as authentic history and subsequently used in their own works, [ citation needed ] The prophecies of Merlin in particular were often drawn on in later periods, for instance by both sides in the issue of English influence over Scotland under Edward I and his successors.[ citation needed ]by which means some of Geoffrey's fictions became embedded in popular history. The history of Geoffrey forms the basis for much British lore and literature as well as being a rich source of material for Welsh bards. It became tremendously popular during the High Middle Ages, revolutionising views of British history before and during the Anglo-Saxon period despite the criticism of such writers as William of Newburgh and Gerald of Wales.
The Historia was quickly translated into Norman verse by Wace (the Roman de Brut ) in 1155. Wace's version was in turn translated into Middle English verse by Layamon (the Brut ) in the early 13th century. In the second quarter of the 13th century, a version in Latin verse, the Gesta Regum Britanniae , was produced by William of Rennes. Material from Geoffrey was incorporated into a large variety of Anglo-Norman and Middle English prose compilations of historical material from the 13th century onward.
Geoffrey was translated into a number of different Welsh prose versions by the end of the 13th century,collectively known as Brut y Brenhinedd . One variant of the Brut y Brenhinedd, the so-called Brut Tysilio, was proposed in 1917 by the archaeologist William Flinders Petrie to be the ancient British book that Geoffrey translated, although the Brut itself claims to have been translated from Latin by Walter of Oxford, based on his own earlier translation from Welsh to Latin. Geoffrey's work is greatly important because it brought the Welsh culture into British society and made it acceptable. It is also the first record we have of the great figure King Lear, and the beginning of the mythical King Arthur figure.
For centuries, the Historia was accepted at face value, and much of its material was incorporated into Holinshed's 16th-century Chronicles. Modern historians have regarded the Historia as a work of fiction with some factual information contained within. John Morris in The Age of Arthur calls it a "deliberate spoof", although this is based on misidentifying Walter, archdeacon of Oxford, as Walter Map, a satirical writer who lived a century later.
It continues to have an influence on popular culture. For example, Mary Stewart's Merlin Trilogy and the TV miniseries Merlin both contain large elements taken from the Historia.
Two hundred and fifteen medieval manuscripts of the Historia survive, dozens of them copied before the end of the 12th century. Even among the earliest manuscripts a large number of textual variants, such as the so-called "First Variant", can be discerned. These are reflected in the three possible prefaces to the work and in the presence or absence of certain episodes and phrases. Certain variants may be due to "authorial" additions to different early copies, but most probably reflect early attempts to alter, add to or edit the text. Unfortunately, the task of disentangling these variants and establishing Geoffrey's original text is long and complex, and the extent of the difficulties surrounding the text has been established only recently.[ citation needed ]
The variant title Historia regum Britanniae was introduced in the Middle Ages, and this became the most common form in the modern period. A critical edition of the work published in 2007, however, demonstrated that the most accurate manuscripts refer to the work as De gestis Britonum, and that this was the title Geoffrey himself used to refer to the work.
Ambrosius Aurelianus was a war leader of the Romano-British who won an important battle against the Anglo-Saxons in the 5th century, according to Gildas. He also appeared independently in the legends of the Britons, beginning with the 9th-century Historia Brittonum. Eventually, he was transformed by Geoffrey of Monmouth into the uncle of King Arthur, the brother of Arthur's father Uther Pendragon, as a ruler who precedes and predeceases them both. He also appears as a young prophet who meets the tyrant Vortigern; in this guise, he was later transformed into the wizard Merlin.
Geoffrey of Monmouth was a cleric from Monmouth, Wales, and one of the major figures in the development of British historiography and the popularity of tales of King Arthur. He is best known for his chronicle The History of the Kings of Britain which was widely popular in its day, being translated into other languages from its original Latin. It was given historical credence well into the 16th century, but is now considered historically unreliable.
Uther Pendragon (Brittonic), also known as King Uther, was a legendary King of the Britons in sub-Roman Britain. Uther was also the father of King Arthur.
Brutus, also called Brute of Troy, is a legendary descendant of the Trojan hero Aeneas, known in medieval British legend as the eponymous founder and first king of Britain. This legend first appears in the Historia Brittonum, an anonymous 9th-century historical compilation to which commentary was added by Nennius, but is best known from the account given by the 12th-century chronicler Geoffrey of Monmouth in his Historia Regum Britanniae.
Beli Mawr was an ancestor figure in Middle Welsh literature and genealogies. He is the father of Cassivellaunus, Arianrhod, Lludd Llaw Eraint, Llefelys, and Afallach. In certain medieval genealogies he is listed as the son or husband of Anna, cousin of Mary, mother of Jesus. According to the Welsh Triads, Beli and Dôn were the parents of Arianrhod, but the mother of Beli's other children—and the father of Dôn's other children—is not mentioned in the medieval Welsh literature. Several royal lines in medieval Wales traced their ancestry to Beli. The Mabinogi names Penarddun as a daughter of Beli Mawr, but the genealogy is confused; it is possible she was meant to be his sister rather than daughter.
Tasciovanus was a historical king of the Catuvellauni tribe before the Roman conquest of Britain.
Cassivellaunus was a historical British military leader who led the defence against Julius Caesar's second expedition to Britain in 54 BC. He led an alliance of tribes against Roman forces, but eventually surrendered after his location was revealed to Julius Caesar by defeated Britons.
Cunedagius was a legendary king of the Britons, as recounted by Geoffrey of Monmouth. He was the son of Henwinus, Duke of Cornwall, and Regan, the daughter of King Leir.
Sisillius I was a legendary king of the Britons as accounted by Geoffrey of Monmouth. He was preceded by Gurgustius and succeeded by Jago. He was the father of Kimarcus, king of the Britons, and shares his name with one of the sons of Ebraucus, and two later kings of the same name. Geoffrey has nothing to say of him beyond this.
Nennius is a mythical prince of Britain at the time of Julius Caesar's invasions of Britain. His story appears in Geoffrey of Monmouth's History of the Kings of Britain (1136), a work whose contents are now considered largely fictional. In Middle Welsh versions of Geoffrey's Historia he was called Nynniaw.
Caradocus, according to Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia regum Britanniae, a pseudohistorical account of the kings of the Britons, was the duke of Cornwall under the reign of Octavius, who became king of Cornwall and died during the Emperor Magnus Maximus' reign.
Aurelius Conanus or Aurelius Caninus was a Brittonic king in 6th-century sub-Roman Britain. The only certain historical record of him is in the writings of his contemporary Gildas, who excoriates him as a tyrant. However, he may be identified with one of the several similarly named figures active in Britain during this period. In the 12th century Geoffrey of Monmouth adapted Gildas' account for his chronicle Historia Regum Britanniae, and thereafter Aurelius Conanus was remembered as a legendary King of Britain.
Cador was a legendary Duke of Cornwall, known chiefly through Geoffrey of Monmouth's pseudohistorical Historia Regum Britanniae and previous manuscript sources such as the Life of Carantoc.
Octa was an Anglo-Saxon King of Kent during the 6th century. Sources disagree on his relationship to the other kings in his line; he may have been the son of Hengist or Oisc, and may have been the father of Oisc or Eormenric. The dates of his reign are unclear, but he may have ruled from 512 to 534 or from 516 to 540. Despite his shadowy recorded history Octa made an impact on the Britons, who describe his deeds in several sources.
Mandubracius or Mandubratius was a king of the Trinovantes of south-eastern Britain in the 1st century BC.
The Battle of Chester was a major victory for the Anglo-Saxons over the native Britons near the city of Chester, England in the early 7th century. Æthelfrith of Northumbria annihilated a combined force from the Welsh kingdoms of Powys and Rhôs, and possibly from Mercia as well. It resulted in the deaths of Welsh leaders Selyf Sarffgadau of Powys and Cadwal Crysban of Rhôs. Circumstantial evidence suggests that King Iago of Gwynedd may have also been killed. Other sources state the battle may have been in 613 or even as early as 607 or 605 AD.
Eldol was Consul or Count of Gloucester in Geoffrey of Monmouth's circa 1136 work Historia Regum Britanniae. In this pseudohistory he was the sole British leader to escape from the massacre of Salisbury, to which Hengist had invited all of the British Leaders to a peace treaty. When all of the leaders were there, about 460 in number, Hengest ordered his men to draw their long knives and kill every leader. Vortigern was spared, but every other ruler was slain, save Eldol, who grabbed a stick up off the ground and killed 70 men in his escape.
King Arthur's family grew throughout the centuries with King Arthur's legend. Many of the legendary members of this mythical king's family became leading characters of mythical tales in their own right.
Brut y Brenhinedd is a collection of variant Middle Welsh versions of Geoffrey of Monmouth's Latin Historia Regum Britanniae. About 60 versions survive, with the earliest dating to the mid-13th century. Adaptations of Geoffrey's Historia were extremely popular throughout Western Europe during the Middle Ages, but the Brut proved especially influential in medieval Wales, where it was largely regarded as an accurate account of the early history of the Celtic Britons.
Walter of Oxford was a cleric and writer. He served as archdeacon of Oxford in the 12th century. Walter was a friend of Geoffrey of Monmouth, who claimed he got his chief source for the Historia Regum Britanniae from him.
He says that he has had the advantage of using a book in the Breton tongue which Walter, Archdeacon of Oxford, brought out of Brittany; this book he translates into Latin.
This fusion of heterogeneous sources, which is apparent almost everywhere in the Historia, completely dispels the fiction that the work is no more than a translation of a single Breton (or Welsh) book