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

The Welsh adopted the book eagerly, retranslating it at times of crisis in a host of copies, finding in it confirmation of their messianic hopes which sustained them until these appeared to have been fulfilled in the accession of the Tudor dynasty.

Anglo-Normans and English, dismissing these prophecies, nevertheless welcomed this history of their new homeland and the glorious past they could now enter into. In the double appeal of an entertainingly written book to conquered and conquerors alike, lies part of its popularity; but its authority lay in its received authenticity which was not doubted except by a handful of sceptics.

The Historia promoted the ideal of a chivalrous court
Its authority left its mark on European historiography; the 'History' became the unique and standard account of early, especially pre-Roman, Britain, the basis for the opening parts of every ‘ab origine’ (from the beginning) chronicle and history. It gave monarchs and nobles genealogies, and set historical precedents for rulers of both state and church.

When these issues became more effectively addressed by other means and other texts, Geoffrey remained a major figure, not as an historian but as creator, source and transmitter of literary legends: Cymbeline and his sons, the love of Locrine and Sabrina, Ferrex and Porrex and most memorably King Lear and his daughters.

His greatest creation is Arthur, whose reign is central to the History. Geoffrey did not devise the legend of Arthur but his is the achievement of presenting a credible historical king-emperor and giving him a chivalrous court which would be the setting for the most potent of all medieval literary genres, the courtly romance. The role of ‘Historia regum Britanniae’ in the portrayal of Arthur confirms Geoffrey of Monmouth as one of the great legend makers of all time.

Thanks to Monmouth Priory

Words: Brynley F Roberts

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