Geoffrey Gaimar (flourished 1136-37), also written Geffrei or Geoffroy Gaimar, was an Anglo-Norman chronicler. Gaimar's lasting contribution to medieval literature and history was as translator from Old English to Anglo-Norman. His L'Estoire des Engleis, or "History of the English People", written between 1136–40, was a chronicle in octosyllabic rhymed couplets running 6,526 lines long.
Overview of his work
The L'Estoire des Engleis opens with a brief mention of King Arthur, whose actions affect the plot of the interpolated tale of Havelok the Dane. That aside, most of the first 3,500 lines are translations out of a variant text of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and subsequent portions from other (Latin and French) sources that remain unidentified.
Gaimar claims to have also written a version of the Brut story, a translation of the chronicle of Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia Regum Britanniae into Anglo-Norman verse, which was commissioned ca. 1136 by Constance, wife of Ralph FitzGilbert, a Lincolnshire landowner. Constance appears to have been implicated in the writing process. Gaimar's translation, if it existed, antedated Wace's Norman Roman de Brut (ca. 1155), but no copy of Gaimar's Brut (aka L'Estoire des Bretuns) has survived, being completely superseded by the latecomer.[a] Ian Short argues that Gaimar's Estoire des Bretuns was no more than a short epitome of the pre-Arthurian section of Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia Regum Britanniae, which might explain why Wace's later full translation of the text became more popular and ultimately superseded Gaimer's version.
To be clear, Gaimar did not create two separate and distinct chronicles, and the two estoires were merely the former and latter sections of a long running history starting from the Argonauts' quest of the golden fleece to the reign of William II "Rufus" (d. 1100) that Gaimar set out to write. Gaimar's scheme was greatly expanded in scope from the translation work on Geoffrey of Monmouth, the former part, that the patron requested. Ironically, it was solely the latter part covering the Anglo-Saxon period that was transmitted by later copyists, as a continuation to Wace. The scribe of one such copy, in a late 13th-century manuscript (B.L. Royal 13 A xx i), dubbed the portion with the title Estoire des Engles.
The so-called "lost L'Estoire des Bretuns" ("History of the Britons") was an expedient term coined by 19th-century commentators.
A version of Havelok the Dane occurs at the beginning of L'Estoire des Engles, which must have originally been interpolated in-between the history of the Britons and the history of the English, serving as a bridge. Unlike the Middle-English version of the legend, Gaimar's version connects Havelok to King Arthur (making Arthur responsible for destroying the Danish kingdom that Havelok was to inherit).[b] Add to this the mention of the sword Caliburc (Excalibur), demonstrating Gaimar's knowledge of Galfridian legendary history that predated the advent of Wace's Brut.
- Ritson notes: "poet anterior to Wace, etc."
- There is also an Anglo-Norman lai version, but that is considered to be later and derived from Gaimar. Cf. Fahnestock (1915). A study of the sources and composition of the old French Lai d'Haveloc. Jamaica, New York: The Marion Press. p. 121.
- Ian Short, "Gaimar, Geffrei", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004.
- Keller, Hans-Erich (1995). "Geffrei Gaimar". In Kibler, William W. Medieval France: An Encyclopedia. Manchester: Psychology Press. p. 741. ISBN 0824044444.
- Berat, Emma (2010). "The Patron and her Clerk: Multilingualism and Cultural Transition". New Medieval literatures. 12: 33.
- Ritson, Joseph (1802). Ancient Engleish Metrical Romanceës. 1. Nicol. p. lxxxviii.
- Short, Ian R. "What was Gaimar's Estoire des Bretuns?", in: Cultura Neolatina 71, 2011, pp. 143-145
- "Lestorie des Bretons" as spelt in: Israel (1898). Hamlet in Iceland. London: David Nutt. p. lx.
- vv.409-422, Hardy, Martin & 1888-89 p.13
- v.46, Hardy, Martin & 1888-89 p.2
- Texts and translations
- Bell, Alexander, ed. (1960). L’Estoire des Engleis by Geffrei Gaimar. Anglo-Norman Texts. 14–16. Oxford: B. Blackwell.
- Bell, Alexander, ed. (1925). Le lai d'Haveloc and Gaimar's Haveloc episode. Manchester: University Press.
- Hardy, Thomas Duffus; Martin, Charles Trice, d. 1914., trs., eds. (1888–89). Le lai d'Haveloc and Gaimar's Haveloc episode. Rerum Britannicarum medii aevi scriptores. Vol. II Translation. London: Printed by H.M. Stationery Off., by Eyre and Spottiswoode.. Archived from the original Vol. I Text Vol. II Translation on 2007-08-07.
- Short, Ian, tr., ed. (2009). Geffrei Gaimar Estoire Des Engleis History of the English. Oxford University Press.
- Wright, Thomas, ed. (1850). The Anglo-Norman metrical chronicle of Geoffrey Gaimar. London: Printed for the members of the Caxton Society.
- Bratu, Cristian, “Translatio, autorité et affirmation de soi chez Gaimar, Wace et Benoît de Sainte-Maure.” The Medieval Chronicle 8 (2013): 135-164.
- Harper-Bill, Christopher & van Houts, Elisabeth (eds.), A Companion to the Anglo-Norman World, Boydell, 2007. ISBN 978-1-84383-341-3.
- Legge, Mary D., Anglo-Norman Literature and its Background, Oxford University Press, 1963.
- Short, Ian R., "What was Gaimar's Estoire des Bretuns?", in: Cultura Neolatina 71, 2011, pp. 143–145.
This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Cousin, John William (1910). "Gaimar, Geoffrey". A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature. London: J. M. Dent & Sons. Wikisource