Godfrey of Viterbo
He was probably an Italian by birth, although some authorities assert that he was a Saxon German like his imperial patrons. He evidently passed some of his early life at Viterbo in Italy, but he was educated at Bamberg, where he was taken by Lothair in 1133, gaining a good knowledge of Latin, possibly preparing for work in governmental service. Following his education, he began working in the Papal Chancellery. In the following years he was active in both governmental and ecclesiastical offices. From an early age he displayed great activity as one of the clergy at the court of Conrad III and later Frederick I, accompanying the latter on many of his campaigns, and frequently fulfilling for him diplomatic missions. About 1140 he became chaplain to the German king, Conrad III; but the greater part of his life was spent as secretary (notarius) in the service of the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick I Barbarossa, who appears to have thoroughly trusted him, and who employed him on many diplomatic errands, traveling extensively throughout Europe, including over forty trips to Rome. Incessantly occupied, he visited Sicily, France, and Spain, in addition to many of the German cities, in the emperor's interests, and was by his side during several of the Italian campaigns. As a reward for his services at court, lands were bestowed on him in fief, probably in 1169, at Viterbo where he also spent his concluding days.
Both before and after Frederick's death in 1190 he enjoyed the favor of his son, the emperor Henry VI. In light of his duties he was familiar with the highest levels of authority in both circles and collected historical material, in his own words, for over forty years as notary and chaplain to the Emperor Frederick.
In the politico-ecclesiastical conflicts of his time -the Conflict of Investiture- he sided with the emperor, without, however, declaring himself inimical to the pope. He blames Pope Alexander's predecessor, Hadrian, for the schism, inasmuch as the latter had allied himself with the Byzantines and Normans against the emperor.
His works were for the most part composed during his many official journeys.
About 1183 he compiled for the use of schools his Speculum regum, dedicated to his Staufian imperial patrons, father Frederick and son Henry. Here the title speculum, 'mirror' is commonly used for works in the genre of "mirrors for princes", texts suitable for the royal dedicatees' education. In this case regum meaning 'of kings' indicates the intention, for future rulers. This history of the world beginning with the deluge intended to reconcile the Romans with the Germans.
In his work Liber universalis 'universal book', he chronicles world history from the creation to the time of Henry VI. Godfrey's Memoria seculorum, or Liber memorialis, a world chronicle dedicated to Henry VI, professes to record the history of the world from the creation until 1185 when it was completed. It is written partly in prose and partly in verse.
The Memoria seculorum was very popular during the Middle Ages, and has been continued by several writers. A revision of this work was drawn up by Godfrey himself from 1185 as Pantheon, or Universitalis libri qui chronici appellantur, a history of the world which enjoyed an unmerited fame during the Middle Ages. The author borrowed from Otto of Freising, but the earlier part of his chronicle is full of imaginary occurrences. Pantheon was first printed in 1559, and extracts from it are published by L. A. Muratori in the Rerum Italicarum scriptores, tome vii (Milan, 1725). The author, delighting as he does in fables, has gathered much material for the history of folklore.
A work considered particularly valuable is the Gesta Friderici I ((res) gesta is Latin for 'deeds', a common title for biographical works), verses relating events in the emperor's career from 1155 to 1180. Concerned mainly with affairs in Italy, the poem tells of the sieges of Milan, of Frederick's flight to Pavia in 1167, of the treaty with Pope Alexander III at Venice, and of other stirring episodes with which the author was intimately acquainted, and many of which he had witnessed. This metrical account of the achievements of Barbarossa, though not free from confusion, contains some valuable information.
Attached to the Gesta Friderici is the Gesta Heinrici VI, a shorter poem which is often attributed to Godfrey, although Wilhelm Wattenbach and other authorities think it was not written by him.
Another minor work is Denominatio regnorum imperio subiectorum, a 'denomination of kings subject to the empire'.
- Also called Geoffrey of Viterbo, in Italian Goffredo da Viterbo and in German Gottfried von Viterbo, from Latin Gaufridus, Godefridus or Gotefredus Viterbensis.
Sources and references
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company. 
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
- Godfrey's works works — some of them only in extracts — are to be found in the Monumenta Germaniae historica, Band xxii. (Hanover, 1872). The Gesta Friderici I et Heinrici VI is published separately with an introduction by G. Waitz (Hanover, 1872).
- H. Ulmann, Gottfried von Viterbo (Göttingen, 1863 dissertation)
- W. Wattenbach, Deutschlands Geschichtsquellen, Band ii.