Talk:Geoffrey of Monmouth

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Removed from article:

And all of it together is now recognized as a deliberate spoof--one which succeeded in fooling many historians and other writers for centuries.

I'm unaware of any scholar who has said Historia Regum Britanniae was a spoof or hoax. Can you cite some published studies that say this? If they can be furnished, then this sentence can be restored as reporting the POV of some scholars. -- llywrch 00:34, 13 Mar 2004 (UTC)

The spoof thing seems to have crawled back into the article, but once again without the slightest shred of justification. HRB is pretty elaborate for a spoof; however, it fits well into the medieval search for documented connections -- even spurious ones -- between the present and the legendary past. I doubt that HRB is "spoofier" than the Aeneid. I've changed "spoof" to "fiction", which ought to cover just about any interpretation of the material (except for those who think that Geoffrey really was working from a reliable ancient British history!) 05:24, 22 January 2006 (UTC)RandomCritic
Two things I'd comment on

1. All learned books of the period were not in Latin. All "English" may be. The world is a larger place and the setence misleads. Even in the British Isles other learned books were in Welsh, outside the UK they were in many languages

2. It might be worth making it clearer that the "Merlin == Myrddin" thing was an invention of Geoffrey and not one that there is evidence for surviving and recorded. (from IP

Removed from article:

John Morris writes in The Age of Arthur that Geoffrey warned aware readers of his time that his work stemmed from Walter Map of Oxford, "who was then well known as a satirist, a wit, and a literary practical joker." Consistent with this, Geoffrey makes numerous statements that historians of the time readily knew to be satirical, such as that Constantius married the daughter of Old King Cole. "It ought not to be necessary to warn," concludes Morris, "that no word or line of Geoffrey can legitimately be considered in the study of any historical problem; but the warning unfortunately remains necessary."

John Morris has apparently confused the "Walter, Archdeacon of Oxford" that Geoffrey of Monmouth referred to with Walter Map -- who was, indeed, archdeacon of Oxford -- but not until 1197, long after Geoffrey was dead. Map is (falsely) cited as a source for Arthurian "histories", but in the Vulgate Cycle of the early 13th century, not in HRB. The linkage between Constantius I Chlorus and Coel Hen, while doubtless an invention of Geoffrey's, is hardly more satirical than other elements in HRB; Coel was not at that time the subject of a nursery rhyme! I have not read Morris, but based on these extracts he seems untrustworthy as a source. (from IP

I've removed the "spoof" thing again, as well as the assertion that the Historia is a work of fiction (it may not be true, but that's not the same thing) and added a bit about his sources. --Nicknack009 21:05, 12 July 2006 (UTC)

John Morris[edit]

John Morris's Age of Arthur has been pretty much exploded; I'd like to remove it from "further reading" or annotate it as untrustworthy (a "tangled tissue of fact and fantasy which is both misleading and misguided", D. P. Kirby and J. E. C. Williams, review in Studia Celtica 1975-76). Any objections?

I have added a couple of recent and reputable books to "Further Reading" for balance. - PKM 03:40, 27 August 2007 (UTC)

Oxford University[edit]

According to Lewis Thorpe's introduction to "The History of the Kings of Britain," published by Penguin Books in 1966, Monmouth could not have studied at Oxford University because the University did not yet exist. Here's the relevant passage from Thorpe's introduction:

"Over a period of twenty-three years, from 1129 to 1151, he [Monmouth] seems to have been connected closely with events in Oxford. That he twice signed himself magister may imply some teaching function, although the University of Oxford did not yet exist." (p. 13)

I hope this helps! —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 15:18, 12 December 2007 (UTC)


I didn't want to link in Walter de Coutances cause it could be wrong. Can anyone confirm if he the right one? Student7 (talk) 03:42, 5 November 2008 (UTC)

Anglo Saxon Bias[edit]

Can anyone explain precisely why Geoffrey's work is routinely described as romantic/imagined/spurious/fictional/unreliable/of little historic value , etc?

It seems obvious to me that such a Welsh nationalistic work relating to the pedigree of the Brythonic kings would inevitably suffer from derision and scorn by the English elite who were suppressing their natural enemies at that very period. The lack of extant sources is an effect of the passage of time but attributing this important work of historical literature to a single man's 'fertile' imagination seems recklessly unlikely. We may as well conclude that Bede was 'making it all up'.

I have toned down these biased POV statements, but expect them to reappear. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 21:41, 31 January 2010 (UTC)

Geoffrey's work is generally referred to as romantic and fictional on Wikipedia because that is the way scholarship generally describes it. The difference between Geoffrey and someone like Bede is that Bede can be shown to follow his sources faithfully, while Geoffrey alters and expands on his sources wherever they can be identified. Please note that Bede is not considered particularly reliable for periods much before his own, except where his sources are reliable.
The "English vs. Welsh" business doesn't wash here; while Geoffrey may well have been from Monmouthshire, he wasn't one of the Welsh people, he was part of the recently-ensconced ruling class under the Norman hierarchy that controlled England and parts of Wales, including Monmouthshire. While his work promotes the Britons as a whole, among the Britons, he always portrays Wales as subordinate to Loegria, his pre-Anglo-Saxon England, and wherever possible he gives preference to the Bretons over insular Britons. Within Norman (and later) England, the text was widely considered accurate history, just as it was in Wales, France, and elsewhere. Since the beginning nationalism has had little to do with criticism of Geoffrey's writing; in modern times it would be helpful to look at what the Welsh scholar Brynley F. Roberts has said about Geoffrey's work and its adaptations in Wales; he likewise finds it to be not historically accurate.--Cúchullain t/c 15:52, 1 February 2010 (UTC)
Thanks for your reply, but I find your reasoning somewhat tautological and circular (nevermind patronising). It is stated by Geoffrey himself that his source was in the "ancient British tongue" and hence may have been in a version of Welsh, Cornish or Breton which may all have been mutually intelligible at the time the source, now presumed lost, was compiled. Most scholars, as well as derivative & variant texts texts by Nennius and Gildas - especially the Brut Tysilio repeat the same so-called 'outrageous fictions' as Geoffrey - without the source available it is surely impossible to know definitively, and the opinions of what you ambiguously term 'scholarship generally' will necessarily remain a matter of conjecture and opinion.
Before again undoing my corrections, please first reconcile the fact that the article simultaneously states "Geoffrey was born some time around 1100 in Wales" and "He is unlikely to have been a native Welshman" ? Not clear to me.
Further, it states in the article "Monmouth had been in the hands of Breton lords since 1086, and Geoffrey's knowledge of the Welsh language appears to have been slight" - an irrelevant point if the source text was in "British" and he spoke 'Breton' but not 'Welsh' (extraordinarily, inconceivably unlikely given that he was born in, lived in, and spent his entire scholastic career composing and researching works on Welsh history & geneaology.) A citation please?
On Bias I fail to see how the opinion of a 12th Century English academic who evidences his own prejudices in the given quote "either from an inordinate love of lying, or for the sake of pleasing the Britons" can be considered any more reliable than Geoffrey given the Mediaeval context?
A further glaring omission; there is no direct mention in the article of the contextual fact of Owain Gwynedd staking his contemporaneous claim to be first Prince of Wales - a likely stimulus for the composition of these nationalistic texts.
Conclusion: the article is inconsistent, anachronistic, decontextualised and needs improving. (talk) 00:03, 2 February 2010 (UTC)
I'm sorry if you found my response patronizing; that was not my intention.
The thrust of your argument seems to be that Geoffrey was Welsh and was getting a raw deal from antagonistic "English" writers. That isn't the case; Geoffrey was probably no more one of the Cymry than was William of Newburgh; both would have been members of the French-speaking elite under the Normans. There's little indication that he spent much of his later life in Wales, considering that he was in Oxford for decades and there is no evidence he ever went to St Asaph's even when he was made its titular bishop. As such it's hardly likely he was criticized by his contemporaries on these grounds. All of this is cited, to Thorpe and the ODNB; there are plenty of other sources that will have the same information. I've made the "native Welshman" line clearer; he was probably not one of the Welsh people though he may have been born in Wales.
On the "ancient book", I suppose it's a matter of what you believe. But the fact that modern scholars dispute Geoffrey's claim to be translating an "ancient book" is cited to R. S. Loomis (no Englishman, by the way). Similarly, the William of Newburgh quote is used because "many modern scholars are tempted to agree with [him]", according to the cited source, Lewis Thorpe.
The Owain Gwynedd material might be interesting to include if it can be referenced to a reliable source. Any article can be improved, not least of all this article. But we can't write anything that doesn't follow the sources, whether or not we think it's true.--Cúchullain t/c 15:30, 2 February 2010 (UTC)
Fine but in fact my argument is, in the dearth of evidence available, most likely he was multi-lingual (speaking Latin,Norman French, as well as Breton and Welsh and no doubt even English) I see no reason or evidence why this couldn't be the case and I would expect this to be a prerequisite for the sort of work he engaged in and circles he moved in. Similarly, in the absence of any evidence, it would seem the most likely that he was principally Brythonic i.e. Welsh and/or Breton. I think you are misunderstanding my point in that by applying a received notion of modern nationality ('English/Welsh/Norman/Breton/French') you are decontextualising and oversimplifying the subtle complexity of the work itself and the unknowability of the period ( the real reason i'm so interested in it - i'm not Welsh myself) . What is definite is that the warrior aristocracies of the period were very keen to attach themselves to the status of King of the Britons - it was not relevant whether they came from what we now call Modern France, England or Wales. A quick look at the familial relationships of William of Normandy will demonstrate the point. (A passing bit of anecdotal evidence that the picture wasnt as straightforward as 'general scholarship' wishes to paint it: Rhys_ap_Tewdwr#Norman homage )
I am at a loss to provide citable evidence for the mutual antagonism between the Britons and the Saxons as it seems so manifestly self evident - some contextual evidence is given here: Welsh_Marches#The March of Wales in the Middle Ages. Again note that on Owain Gwynedd's war with Henry II, there is no reciprocal mention on Henry's page, even though the campaign in Wales was his first military action as King of England. Let's not forget that even in modern English, to "welc/sh" is to be inherently untrustworthy - my feeling is that's exactly what's going on in so-called 'general scholarship'...—Preceding unsigned comment added by (talkcontribs)
To frame this discussion another way, I don't know of any modern scholarship that takes Geoffrey's claim to be translating an "ancient book" at face value. And that's what Wikipedia articles rely on, not individual editors thoughts about the author's derision from the "English". For instance John T. Koch's Celtic Culture is quite kind to Geoffrey, but still says that the claim can't be taken at face value, considering how much borrowing from earlier extant sources is in the work.[1]--Cúchullain t/c 19:41, 3 February 2010 (UTC)
Well thanks for the references, but the scholarly external source you give seems to corroborate my statements about the lack of evidence for GoM's biographical details - suggesting my amendments are entirely justified (...interestingly, later down the page are given some revealing details about his motivation which I will add to the article). You have removed my 'citation needed' flags for the statements "He is unlikely to have been ethnically Welsh" and "Geoffrey's knowledge of the Welsh language appears to have been slight" without providing any - so i will reinstate them. Furthermore the appended statement " he is likely to have sprung from the same French-speaking elite of the Welsh border country as the writers Gerald of Wales and Walter Map" is actually non sequitur - click on the articles and you will find the statements "Gerald of Wales..."was of mixed Norman and Welsh blood" and Walter Map..."claims Welsh origin" - oh dear, something of a landslide in my favour i fear? will amend accordingly86.166.6.78 (talk) 20:44, 4 February 2010 (UTC)
So if you belong to a French-speaking elite and one of your fellow members happens to be of Welsh ancestry, every member must be Welsh also? That's what I call a non sequitur. Cavila (talk) 22:36, 5 February 2010 (UTC)
Incidentally there are in fact at least 2 scholars who take the claims for the work to be translated from a source in the British (i.e. Brythonic) language seriously on account of textual difference in alternate versions which they claim are traceable to independent derivations from the original lost source - one being Flinders Petrie[2] the other being Wm R Cooper[3] - although Petrie's assumption that the Tysilio was an older source document has been overturned following recent study undermining his case, much of his logical reasoning on the antiquity of the source(s) - some of which may have been orally transmitted - remains valid until proven otherwise.—Preceding unsigned comment added by (talkcontribs)

────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────────Anon, please remember to sign your comments with four tildas (~~~~). This helps make sure conversations are readable. Your fact tags are misplaced, because the material is in fact cited, to the ONDB, as I alluded to above. There are plenty of other sources that will give the same information, including some cited elsewhere in this article. The point of the "He was unlikely to have been ethnically Welsh" line was written to rephrase the previous line that you found unsuitable. The information that needs to be transmitted is Though he may have been born in Monmouth, he part of the foreign ruling class recently instated by the Normans, and thus is unlikely to have been one of the Cymry as they are typically thought of. Whatever his Welsh connection, he moved entirely within the Norman power structure, making him similar to contemporaries born in Wales and the Marches like Gerald of Wales and Walter Map." I'm sure we can find a better way to phrase it. As to the individuals you mention; this has been previously discussed at Talk:Brut y Brenhinedd. Flinders Petrie's work was published in 1917; more recent studies have superseded it. A standard survey of the Bruts and their relation to Geoffrey is Brynley F. Roberts' "Geoffrey of Monmouth, Historia Regnum Britanniae and Brut y Brenhinedd", published in The Arthur of the Welsh. Roberts (a Welshman btw) finds that all the Bruts derive from the Historia, and not some earlier "ancient book". William Cooper is not a scholar at all; he has no relevant qualifications and his translation appears to be self-published. The link you've given is hosted by an American fundamentalist Christian web site with some odd fascination with British nationalism. It is not a reliable source.--Cúchullain t/c 18:01, 5 February 2010 (UTC)

Hi anonymous editor. I don't have much to add to what Cúchullain has said already. Hopefully you understand by now that whatever we put in an article needs to be cited to a reliable secondary source. The same goes for whatever arguments you may have (I haven't seen any) for Geoffrey's use of a "very ancient book" or his proficiency in Welsh. Some salient advice on determining the reliability of sources can be found here. Also, you seem to be under the impression that scholars are interested only in historical facts and for that reason set aside Geoffrey of Monmouth simply as an unreliable pseudo-historian with an overproductive imagination, right? But the voluminous literature which Geoffrey's works have spawned in the last few decades alone surely must speak volumes (pardon the pun) about their recognition as rich and influential pieces of literature, which have much to tell us about the society and culture in which they were produced. Would like you to see some suggestions for further reading? Cavila (talk) 23:02, 5 February 2010 (UTC)
On the contrary I think the article is now much improved on many of the points I raised. It's all very well you having 'reliable sources' in your heads but in the cases I pointed out (now amended) the 'scholarly' references were missing; however the statement "Geoffrey's knowledge of the Welsh language appears to have been slight." remains insufficiently referenced in my opinion. On the application of logical consistency, I have simply been following sourced information given in the links to the other wiki articles - if i agree a source is unreliable, such as Petrie & Cooper, i have merely left it on the discussion page as a response to your request. In reply to Cavila, as a comparable example, one does not detect the same rigid hostility, accusation & 'scholarly' demand for 'verifiable historical sources' in, say, Irish_mythology#The_Sources ; they are simply taken as historical accounts of traditional national myth. I would prefer the disparaging contemporary remarks from William of Newburgh,et al. in their proper context as they are likely to be biased and not based on 'reliable scholarship'. I have also added a footnote on the Prophetiae because there is an important near contemporary source, neither Welsh nor Breton which remains extant corroborating the likelihood that Geoffrey's sources - probably oral and therefore unrecorded- were current in contemporary Pan-Brythonic culture and not verifiably Geoffrey's personal fabrications as the original article implied. (take a look at the history of the article if you can no longer see what I meant)—Preceding unsigned comment added by (talkcontribs)
Anon, please remember to sign your comments with four tildas so others can follow the conversation. As to the Irish mythology article, that article has been tagged as needing sources since April 2009. It isn't by any standard a decent article on Irish mythology, for that reason - its sources are totally unclear and so the material can't be vetted. Comparing one Wikipedia article to another is often unproductive (unless it's a good article or featured article or something); the other article might be superior in one way but deficient in others (as in this case). You also seem to be under the impression that Geoffrey's work must either be an accurate representation of traditional material (perhaps a translation of an "ancient book" or a writing down of oral tradition) or else something totally new (his own "fabrication"). That's not the case, and no good scholar would frame it that way. While it is well accepted that the overall narrative is Geoffrey's own work, and a lot of the material was probably created directly by him, he was very obviously relying on traditional material for various parts of the work. He was clearly working with long-standing tradition in things like the Brutus legend and "Maximianus", which can be shown to predate him. His accomplishment was in adding all this stuff together into the new framework of a narrative of the kings of Britain, thereby creating something new. That's all the article is saying.--Cúchullain t/c 15:11, 10 February 2010 (UTC)

Gerald of Wales's take on Geoffrey if Monmouth[edit]

May not be REL enough to the article, but some of the editors may appreciate it. Just to set the stage: "there once was a certain Welshman called Meilyr who could explain the occult and foretell the future... Whenever anyone told a lie in his presence, Meilyr was immediately aware of it, for he saw a demon dancing..." [I'm sure you see where this is headed...] — LlywelynII 20:47, 13 February 2013 (UTC)