Geoffrey of Monmouth
(in Latin Galfridus Monumutensis) (c. 1100 – c. 1155) was a clergyman who was author of two known works, the Latin prose Historia Regum Britanniae (‘History of the Kings of Britain’) and the Latin verse Vita Merlini (‘Life of Merlin’).

Geoffrey of Monmouth and OxfordEdit

It may be guessed from his signature as signature on six charters which indicate Geoffrey resided in Oxford during the period when he wrote his Historia. The earliest of these charters dates to 1129. Geoffrey later moved to London. Geoffrey twice signs himself magister (‘master’), perhaps indicating he was a teacher.

Geoffrey Was Possibly of Breton OriginEdit

Geoffrey is unlikely to have been Welsh. He may have been Breton. Monmouth had been in the hands of Breton lords since 1086 and the supposed book of ancient records in British speech which Geoffrey claims to have translated into his History may be imagined to be Breton.

Geoffrey’s Prophetiae MerliniEdit

At some point before 1135, Geoffrey published his Prophetiae Merlini (‘Prophecies of Merlin’), purporting to be the translation of a British prophet. As usual with prophecies written after the event, Merlin is astoundingly accurate up to Geoffrey’s own day. From that point, interpreters must dig to match events with the prophecies and usually do not agree.

Geoffrey’s Historia Regum BritanniaeEdit

Around 1136 Geoffrey published his Historia, which made him famous. His previous work, the Prophetiae Merlini was included within and seems to have ceased to circulate separately.

Most scholars appear to have accepted Geoffrey’s work for what he claimed it was. William of Newburgh who claimed the work was mostly invented. Giraldus Cambrensis tells of a man possessed by demons: “If the evil spirits oppressed him too much, the Gospel of St John was placed on his bosom, when, like birds, they immediately vanished; but when the book was removed, and the History of the Britons by ‘Geoffrey Arthur’ (as Geoffrey named himself) was substituted in its place, they instantly reappeared in greater numbers, and remained a longer time than usual on his body and on the book.

That Geoffrey’s work sometimes contradicted other chronicles was not seen as an insuperable problem. Histories and chronicles often disagreed, especially when dealing with barbaric eras.

Geoffrey’s Vita MerliniEdit

To Geoffrey is also acribed the hexameter poem Vita Merlini (‘Life of Merlin’). This appears to be far more based on Welsh folklore than the Historia. Where the Historia told of a Merlin who was a prophet before Arthur’s day, this one, in line with Welsh native tradition, places him after Arthur’s day and appears to purposely not state clearly whether the two Merlins are supposed to be the same.

Death of Geoffrey of MonmouthEdit

On February 21, 1152 Archbishop Theobald consecrated Geoffrey as bishop of St. Asaph, having ordained him a priest 10 days before. But St. Asaph was then in a war zone and it is very unlikely that Geoffrey could even visit St. Asaph. He seems to have died between December 25, 1154 and December 24, 1155, when a certain Richard becomes Bishop of St. Asaph.