Monday, October 6, 2014

The History of the Kings of Britain, by Geoffrey of Monmouth

It has been said that a source written close to the time of its events is closest to the truth, right?  So here's an oldie, but goodie: The History of the Kings of Britain was completed about the year 1136.   But it is so unbelievable and outrageous that we have the right to question if the author, Geoffrey of Monmouth, is even real.  

Whoever Geoffrey of Monmouth was, his account should probably be considered more of a romantic tale of Britain rather than a true history.  Basically, the author puts together an idealistic account of the birth of Britain, like Aeneas and the founding of Rome.  Speaking of Aeneas, Geoffrey included a connection between Aeneas' great-grandson, Brutus, and the beginning of Britain.  Get it: Brutus...Britain?  

There are plenty of chapters on the continuous battles between the Britons and Romans and Britons and Saxons.  There are several chapters on Constantine.  An entire chapter is dedicated to the prophecies of Merlin.  I expected the story to become more familiar when I got to the chapter on King Arthur, but there was no extracting the sword from the stone, no Excalibur, and no Lady of the Lake. And according to Geoffrey, King Arthur fought the Romans frequently.  By the end of the book, the Saxons had the upper hand over the Britons, and it wasn't looking good for them. And just like that, the history of Britain was over (though it felt as if it had just begun).

The History of the Kings of Britain is just a little entertaining read, but probably not a useful source for factual information.  I would probably suggest something else for my report on an historical account of Britain.

This counts towards:


Anonymous said...

I am really interested in reading The Ecclesiastical History of the English People by the Venerable Bede. Evidently, it has quite a bit of historical value despite the many legends within. It was completed in 731. Does Bauer include Bede's book in her book list? Old histories can be valuable because the historians are more contemporary to the events, but the Medieval world was obsessed with legends. Historical accuracy was definitely not the most important goal of a history. I remember reading an account of some Medieval saint a while back and the author claimed that his history/hagiography was accurate because some monk in a tavern (!) told him the story. Quite a reliable source I'd say :)

Ruth said...

Bauer does include Bede's Ecclesiastical History on the histories list; I look forward to reading it, too. Geoffrey also made references to Bede's histories within his History of the Kings. So it makes me wonder what truth may be found in Bede's work.

What interesting times it was for the medievals, right?

Anonymous said...

This sounds like an interesting read! I've long wanted to read this and Bede as well. I'm glad to hear it's entertaining, even if not exactly factual. :) I agree that it is nice to hear accounts from the Middle Ages, even if they include a fair dose of the legendary and magical.

Jean said...

I love Geoffrey and his crazy stories. Did you find King Lear and Old King Cole? :) It's a tough read and I decided not to tackle it this year, so you are impressive. I too want to read Bede. Hm, does that mean we should do a Bede readalong someday? In the future?

Ruth said...

I feel the same way. I think there is a mystical impression about the medieval period. And maybe this is why.

Ruth said...

I will have to read Bede, but it won't be for a few years. So yeah, in the future.

I didn't realize that the legends of King Lear and King Cole came from these histories. I just looked it up in my version, and both of them are spelled differently (Leir and Coel), but I am pretty sure this is them. I was not familiar with the stories, but definitely knew their names.

Hamlette (Rachel) said...

Completely unrelated, but I tagged you with The Janeite Tag :-)

Both this and Bede sound interesting, but much heavier than I have time and inclination to dig into right now. My hat is off to you!

Jean said...

Yep, that's them! They're hard to spot because of the spelling and of course Lear's been dramatized and I don't think Geoffrey says much about Coel being a merry old soul with a pipe and a bowl, but that's them all right. :)