1517 Geoffrey Of Monmouth History Of British Kings Arthur Merlin Lear Arthurian

1517 Geoffrey Of Monmouth History Of British Kings Arthur Merlin Lear Arthurian

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1517 Geoffrey Of Monmouth History Of British Kings Arthur Merlin Lear Arthurian:

[Early Printing - Post-Incunabula - Paris] [Celts and Britons - History and Folklore] [King Arthur and Arthurian Romances - Sources]
[Great Britain - History - Ancient - Kings and rulers] [Shakespeare's Plays - King Lear - Sources] [Merlin's Prophecies]

Printed in Paris by Josse Badius Ascenius, 13 Sept. 1517.
Text in the original Latin. Edited by Ivo Cavellatus, professor of the College of Quimper in Paris, from four manuscripts available in Paris.
Includes Prophetiae Merlini, i.e. "The Prophecies of Merlin".

Second Edition (first printed by Badius in 1508) of one of the most important documents of Anglo-Norman literature, and "one of the most popular and influential historical works of the middle ages" (ODNB).

Geoffrey of Monmouth (c.1100-1154/5), bishop of St Asaph, completed his "History of British Kings" by 1139. Geoffrey's influential history introduced such figures as Arthur, Merlin, and King Lear to European reading public. "The fact that thereafter the Arthurian cycle was mediated primarily through the mid-fifteenth-century Morte d'Arthur of Sir Thomas Malory should not detract from the position of Geoffrey of Monmouth as its great originator." (op. cit.)

The figure of King Leir [Lear] seems to have been Geoffrey's original creation, and arguably the most successful. "Indeed, Tatlock described the Leir story along with the vogue of Arthur as Geoffrey's greatest contribution to the world." (op. cit.) Shakespeare's play is based on various accounts of the semi-legendary Celtic figure, king Leir of Britain. Shakespeare's most immediate source was probably Raphael Holinshed's Chronicles. However, Holinshed himself found the story in the much earlier Historia Regum Britanniae by Geoffrey of Monmouth.

Geoffrey's Historia makes Britain's foundation contiguous with classical myth, in the person of Brutus, a Trojan émigré. It proceeds to an account of a series of royal dynasties, some of whose members enjoyed later fame, to the last glorious British kings, notably Uther Pendragon and Arthur, before the final victory of the Saxons. Geoffrey concludes his history in the seventh century AD, where Bede's Historia ecclesiastica begins.

Geoffrey of Monmouth (Latin: Galfridus Monemutensis) was a Welsh cleric and one of the major figures in the development of British history and the popularization of tales of King Arthur. Geoffrey "is thought to have been a monk of the Benedictine abbey at Monmouth, and about 1140 was made archdeacon of Llandaff. He was consecrated bishop of St. Asaph Feb. 24, 1152, but seems to have died before he actually entered on his duties there. Geoffrey is famous for his Historia regum Britannia, which was highly popular in all lands during the Middle Ages, furnished Sir Thomas Malory the material for his Morte d'Arthur, and has been drawn upon by poets from Shakespeare to Tennyson. It is a skilful mixture of history, legend, and pure romance, beginning with the fall of Troy and the story of Brutus, a descendant of Aeneas, who is made the ancestor of the Britons, and ending with Cadwalader and the downfall of the Celtic power in Britain. The main source, Geoffrey states, was a "very old book" given him by Walter, archdeacon of Oxford, but he also used Gildas, Nennius, and Bede." (The new Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of religious knowledge, vol.IV, p.454)

Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia Regum Britanniae ("History of the Kings of Britain") relates the purported mythical history of Britain, from its first settlement by Brutus, a descendant of the Trojan hero Aeneas, to the death of Cadwallader in the 7th century, including Julius Caesar's invasions of Britain, two kings, Leir and Cymbeline, later immortalized by William Shakespeare, and one of the earliest developed narratives of King Arthur. Historia Regum Britanniae is now acknowledged as a literary work of national myth containing little reliable history. This has since led many modern scholars to agree with William of Newburgh, who wrote around 1190 that "it is quite clear that everything this man wrote about Arthur and his successors, or indeed about his predecessors from Vortigern onwards, was made up, partly by himself and partly by others".

Nevertheless, the work was widely disseminated across the whole of Medieval Western Europe (Griscom listed 186 extant manuscripts in 1929, and more have been identified since). It enjoyed a significant afterlife in a variety of forms, including translations or adaptations such as the Anglo-Norman Roman de Brut of Wace, the Middle English Brut of Layamon, and several anonymous Middle Welsh versions. Furthermore, his structuring and reshaping of the Merlin and Arthur myths engendered the vast popularity of Merlin and Arthur myths in later literature, a popularity that lasts to this day; he is viewed by scholars as the major establisher of the Arthurian canon.

Liber IV of Geoffrey's Historia contains Prophetiae Merlini ("Prophecies of Merlin") which was originally Geoffrey's earliest known work (written before 1135) and which appears both separately and (as here) incorporated into the text of Historia Regum Britanniae. It consists of a series of obscure prophetic utterances ascribed to Merlin, which Geoffrey claimed to have translated from an unspecified language. In this work Geoffrey drew from the established Welsh tradition of prophetic writing attributed to the sage Myrddin, though his knowledge of Myrddin's story at this stage in his career appears to have been slight. Many of its prophecies referring to historical and political events up to Geoffrey's lifetime can be identified - for example, the sinking of the White Ship in 1120, when William Adelin, son of Henry I, died. Geoffrey introduced the spelling "Merlin", derived from the Welsh "Myrddin". (The Welsh scholar Rachel Bromwich observed that this "change from medial 'dd' to 'l' is curious, and is explained by some scholars as a way to avoid the undesirable associations to the French word merde".)

The first work about this legendary prophet in a language other than Welsh, Prophetiae Merlini was widely read (and believed!) as much as the prophecies of Nostradamus were centuries later.

Bibliographic references:

Adams G445; Renouard II, 460-462; BM STC French, p. 196

Physical description:

Small Quarto, textblock measures 192 mm x 134 mm. Bound in seventeenth-century full brown English calf, boards ruled in blind, flat spine ruled in gilt and with a gilt-lettered morocco label.

Foliation: [6], 101, [1] leaves (numbered in roman numerals). Signatures: AA8 [-AA1,8], A-M8, N6 (N6 blank). Lacking two conjugate preliminary leaves AA1 (title) and AA8 (with woodcut coat of arms on verso), otherwise complete with the entire text of Geoffrey's work present. The text of the title and of the beginning of the Dedicatory Epistle by Ivo Cavellatus on verso replaced in early 19th-century manuscript on ancient paper.

Printed in roman leter in single column, with printed marginal notes. Numerous decorative initials of various sizes, mostly with floral motifs, both woodcut and metalcut (crible).

index on leaves AA3r-AA6v, followed by commendatory verses by Alanus Aureus. Colophon on leaf N5v.


Nineteenth-century armorial bookplate of Colonel [Edward Henry] Cooper of Markree Castle, County Sligo, Ireland, and a label of Markree library marked "re-arranged in 1913 by Bryan Cooper'" on front pastedown. Edward Henry Cooper was born in 1827, educated in Eton and served in the Grenadier Guards, rising to the rank of Lieut. Colonel. He was elected to represent Sligo at Westminster in 1865 and to the office of Lord-Lieutenant of County Sligo in 1877.


Lacking the title (AA1) and the last preliminary leaf (AA2), otherwise in Good antiquarian condition. Text of Historia regum Britanniae is complete. Text of title leaf (recto and verso) supplied in 19th-century hand on early (probably 16th-century) paper leaf, which is torn and repaired with loss of a few words. Some scattered soiling and occasional light marginal staining. Some leaves with curious marginal manuscript notes in Latin in a neat 16th-century hand. Small wormhole to bottom margin of first 20 leaves (well away from text). Binding rubbed, with corners bumped and somewhat worn; joints slightly cracking, repaired, but holding securely. Imperfect, but textually complete and generally clean, wide-margined example of this scarce and important work.

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1517 Geoffrey Of Monmouth History Of British Kings Arthur Merlin Lear Arthurian:

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