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18 June 2014
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Myths and Legends
Geoffrey of Monmouth - Legend Maker

Editions of his books were dedicated to patrons of power and influence, whom he no doubt hoped would further his career: Bishop Alexander of Lincoln, Robert, Earl of Gloucester and Lord of Glamorgan, who was also the natural son of Henry I and a contender for the throne, Waleran count of Mellent, King Stephen, and finally Robert de Chesney, bishop of Lincoln, former canon of St George’s.

From these clues, the outline begins to emerge of a cultured writer moving in circles close to the courts of king and bishop and seeking preferment. How disappointed he may have felt in gaining only the new and penurious see, or diocese, of St Asaph we do not know.

The records do not reveal the nature of any association he may have had with Monmouth. We can assume that his family was part of the Norman/Anglo-Norman community around the castle and priory, many of whom were of Breton origin, so it is tempting to suggest that he was of Breton extraction, but this is no more than a plausible inference.

Looking through 'Geoffrey's Window' at Monmouth Priory
Monemutensis, ‘of Monmouth’, however, is how Geoffrey was known, and chose to be known throughout his career which was, nevertheless, spent elsewhere, so that the description must have indicated some connection to the place.

Legends thrive in a vacuum, and later generations would seek stronger associations, but nothing apart from tradition, firmly links Geoffrey with the priory in Monmouth, where the 15th Century Oriel window is known as Geoffrey’s Window.

Geoffrey is also referred to in some of the documents as Galfridus Arturus, ‘Geoffrey Arthur’. Is this his father’s name (Arthur was not yet a common personal name)? Is it a nickname implying the common appellation of a student intrigued by legends of King Arthur, that were common in the folklore of the south-east Marches of Wales, and along the valleys of the Severn and Wye. Certainly, when Geoffrey came to write his 'Historia', he structured his narrative around the figure of Arthur and revealed how deeply he had thought about this legendary British king.

Words: Brynley F Roberts

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