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Act like Men, Britons!

Tom Shippey: Celticity, 31 July 2008

The History of the Kings of Britain 
by Geoffrey of Monmouth, edited by Michael Reeve, translated by Neil Wright.
Boydell, 307 pp., £50, November 2007, 978 1 84383 206 5
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The History of the Kings of Britain 
by Geoffrey of Monmouth.
Broadview, 383 pp., £8.99, January 2008, 978 1 55111 639 6
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... that there might be some doubt about its authenticity. Much of the phenomenon must be ascribed to Geoffrey of Monmouth. Born some thirty years after the Norman Conquest, Geoffrey, with his Norman name and strong Welsh connections, was probably the child of a mixed marriage. His ...

So Much Smoke

Tom Shippey: King Arthur, 20 December 2018

King Arthur: the Making of the Legend 
by Nicholas Higham.
Yale, 380 pp., £25, October 2018, 978 0 300 21092 7
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... Still, Nennius’s Arthur might have remained in scholarly oblivion had he not been picked up by Geoffrey of Monmouth 300 years later, and expanded into a whole book of his Historia Regum Britanniae. This immensely successful work – more than 200 surviving manuscripts, and translations into Old French, Middle ...

M for Merlin

Helen Cooper: Chrétien de Troyes, 25 November 1999

Perceval: The Story of the Grail 
by Chrétien de Troyes, translated by Burton Raffel.
Yale, 307 pp., £22.50, March 1999, 0 300 07586 3
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... It was Chrétien who first realised that the legendary history of Arthur, largely invented by Geoffrey of Monmouth a few decades earlier, allowed huge scope for making up adventures for his knights. Of all his creations, the grail has turned out to be the most extraordinary. He gave it no origins or purpose or any kind ...

A Palm Tree, a Colour and a Mythical Bird

Robert L. Cioffi: Ideas of Phoenicia, 3 January 2019

In Search of the Phoenicians 
by Josephine Quinn.
Princeton, 360 pp., £27, December 2017, 978 0 691 17527 0
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... in the Roman army. At the time, Foche’s claims were perhaps no stranger than those made by Geoffrey of Monmouth in the 1130s that traced the kings of Britain back to Brutus the Trojan, a descendant of Aeneas. As Britain sought to distance itself from France, Foche’s ideas had a certain appeal, but they didn’t ...

Worse than Pagans

Tom Shippey: The Church v. the Fairies, 1 December 2016

Elf Queens and Holy Friars: Fairy Beliefs and the Medieval Church 
by Richard Firth Green.
Pennsylvania, 285 pp., £36, August 2016, 978 0 8122 4843 2
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... ancestry of Arthur’s prophet, Merlin. In his 12th-century bestseller, Historia Regum Britanniae, Geoffrey of Monmouth told the story of how Merlin’s mother was visited in her convent by a being in the form of a handsome young man, who could appear and disappear at will. He is characterised, on the authority of ...

To litel Latin

Tom Shippey, 11 October 1990

Intellectual Culture in Elizabethan and Jacobean England: The Latin Writings of the Age 
by J.W. Binns.
Francis Cairns Press, 761 pp., £75, July 1990, 0 905205 73 1
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... robust rejection of the ‘Brutus books’ and the mythical tradition of British history set up by Geoffrey of Monmouth in the 12th century. Was there really no King Arthur, and no King Lear either? Milton clearly did not want to believe it, arguing patriotically if defensively: ‘those old and inborn names of successive ...
Northern Antiquity: The Post-Medieval Reception of Edda and Saga 
edited by Andrew Wawn.
Hisarlik, 342 pp., £35, October 1994, 1 874312 18 4
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Heritage and Prophecy: Grundtvig and the English-Speaking World 
edited by A.M. Allchin.
Canterbury, 330 pp., £25, January 1994, 9781853110856
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... idea of this side of their own historic past, all lost in a jumble of King Arthur and Bede and Geoffrey of Monmouth. The author of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, strongly Scandinavian though his vocabulary is, had only the ‘Brutus legend’ to guide him to his own history; four centuries later, Dr Johnson was little ...

‘Where’s yer Wullie Shakespeare noo?’

Michael Dobson: 17th-century literary culture, 11 September 2008

Archipelagic English: Literature, History, and Politics 1603-1707 
by John Kerrigan.
Oxford, 599 pp., March 2008, 978 0 19 818384 6
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... mentions the interest expressed by some 17th-century Welsh writers in the old stories recorded by Geoffrey of Monmouth, the status and currency of the Arthurian legends across the archipelago during the period leading up to the Union is never explored. The fact that Milton, who drafted his own ‘History of Britain’, once ...

Bardism

Tom Shippey: The Druids, 9 July 2009

Blood and Mistletoe: The History of the Druids in Britain 
by Ronald Hutton.
Yale, 491 pp., £30, May 2009, 978 0 300 14485 7
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... of Merlin as a druid is familiar from film and fiction, but there are no druids in Malory, or in Geoffrey of Monmouth, and the sorcerers with whom Ambrosius contends in the ninth-century Historia Brittonum, from which so much of the Arthurian legend derives, are just magi. Druids got their start in the modern imagination ...

Rome’s New Mission

Diarmaid MacCulloch: Early Christianity, 2 June 2011

Christians and Pagans: The Conversion of Britain from Alban to Bede 
by Malcolm Lambert.
Yale, 329 pp., £30, September 2010, 978 0 300 11908 4
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... after the Roman legions departed. At the other pole, six centuries later, stand the heroic liar Geoffrey of Monmouth, whose Historia Regum Britanniae conjured up Arthurian splendour from scrappy British memories that they had had a champion against the Saxons, and some ingenious Welsh bishops who, furious at the unholy ...

‘Just get us out’

Ferdinand Mount, 21 March 2019

... pope, who was supreme in the land. Much of the material was drawn from the fanciful romances of Geoffrey of Monmouth, whose ‘Arthurian fables’, to quote Diarmaid MacCulloch in his Life of Cranmer, ‘have met their nemesis in Walt Disney and Monty Python’. The king lapped it all up, and now so do the Jacob ...

Things Keep Happening

Geoffrey Hawthorn: Histories of Histories, 20 November 2008

A History of Histories: Epics, Chronicles, Romances and Inquiries from Herodotus and Thucydides to the 20th Century 
by John Burrow.
Allen Lane, 553 pp., £25, December 2007, 978 0 7139 9337 0
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What Was History? The Art of History in Early Modern Europe 
by Anthony Grafton.
Cambridge, 319 pp., £13.99, March 2007, 978 0 521 69714 9
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The Theft of History 
by Jack Goody.
Cambridge, 342 pp., £14.99, January 2007, 978 0 521 69105 5
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Thucydides and the Philosophical Origins of History 
by Darien Shanske.
Cambridge, 268 pp., £54, January 2007, 978 0 521 86411 4
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... and 16th, of what has come to be called ‘humanist history’. It is an entertaining section: Geoffrey of Monmouth on the achievements of the probably inexistent Arthur (and his spear, called Ron), an account, Burrow observes, which seems so convincing, yet does not convince; the scurrilities of Matthew Paris, not least ...

Wilderness of Tigers

Michael Neill: Shakespeare’s Latin, 19 March 2015

Shakespeare and Classical Antiquity 
by Colin Burrow.
Oxford, 281 pp., £16.99, September 2013, 978 0 19 968479 3
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... of these allusions was no doubt a result of the fact that the Brutus legend, first disseminated by Geoffrey of Monmouth in the 12th century, and more recently by Holinshed, Spenser and others, had been rendered suspect by the work of late 16th-century historians like William Camden; but by then the notion of England as the ...

Break their teeth, O God

Colin Kidd: The Trial of Sacheverell, 20 August 2014

Faction Displayed: Reconsidering the Impeachment of Dr Henry Sacheverell 
edited by Mark Knights.
Wiley-Blackwell, 132 pp., £19.99, February 2012, 978 1 4443 6187 2
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The State Trial of Doctor Henry Sacheverell 
edited by Brian Cowan.
Wiley-Blackwell, 307 pp., £22.99, November 2012, 978 1 4443 3223 0
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... in the West Country led by his brother’s most prominent bastard, the Protestant Duke of Monmouth. Then, despite his intention of ruling as a ‘church papist’, a king whose private Catholicism would not compromise his political support for the Church of England, he began to dismantle the apparatus of the Anglican regime. This brought him into ...

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