The Historical Writing of Alfred of Beverley
Slevin, John Patrick
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
Reason for embargo
To enable articles to be published and papers to be delivered
This thesis examines the historical writing of the twelfth-century Yorkshire historian Alfred of Beverley, compiler of a Latin chronicle covering the history of Britain from its supposed foundation by Brutus down to the time of Henry I. From the late Middle Ages until the eighteenth century Alfred enjoyed a considerable reputation amongst chroniclers, antiquaries and topographers but by the mid-nineteenth century scholarly opinion had come to consider his work highly derivative, uninformative and of little historical value. The chronicle was printed by Thomas Hearne in 1716, but was never edited in the Rolls Series and the text has remained largely neglected until today. Alfred’s sources in the chronicle have been identified and his use of them examined. The circumstances and date of compilation have been reconsidered and supported by internal evidence from the text, a date of compilation of c.1148 - c.1151 x 1154 is proposed. Alfred’s purpose and intended audience of the work has been considered and evidence for the work’s dissemination and reception from the twelfth to the seventeenth century has been gathered in order to assess the place of the work in medieval historiography. This study finds the Historia to be a text of considerable historical interest and value. It shares common features with historical narratives of the first half of the twelfth century in attempting to provide a comprehensive account of the island’s past, but does so in a more concise, less discursive literary manner. It reveals the application of the methodologies of scholastic exegesis to the writing of history, in its language, textual organization and in the interrogation of authorities that it engages in to determine the veracity of historical data.The text is an important witness for the dissemination of the important twelfth-century source texts it uses. It is the first Latin chronicle to incorporate Geoffrey of Monmouth’s British history into its narrative fabric (Henry of Huntingdon’s c.1139 abbreviation of Geoffrey’s history was inserted as a self-standing ‘Letter to Warinus’). Alfred’s critical reception of the Galfridian material is examined in the thesis. The extensive borrowings from Henry of Huntingdon, Geoffrey of Monmouth, John of Worcester and the Durham Historia Regum, provide important evidence for the dissemination of these texts, which the thesis examines. A finding of the study is that the Historia has been powerfully influenced by Henry of Huntingdon’s Historia Anglorum in its structure and thematic approach. The later reception of Alfred’s Historia by Ranulph Higden in his Universal Chronicle Polychronicon is examined and the impact that this had on Alfred’s later reception in historiography, from William Caxton to William Camden is traced and explored.
Author’s note 1: Fig 1 p. 34 Item 5. Presently reads 'Grant in free alms by William Tison to Rufford Abbey (Cistercian) of land in ‘Arthes’ in Averham in East Riding of Yorkshire'. It should read 'Grant in free alms by William Tison to Rufford Abbey (Cistercian) of land in ‘Arthes’ in Averham, south west of the village of Kelham in Nottinghamshire'.
Author's note 2: Fig.2 p.49. Cambridge, Trinity College, MS O.2.52. Final sentence should read- 'The text of the manuscript takes Alfred's Historia down to the accession of William I in 1066.'
Author's note 3: Page 200, ‘The Death of Earl Godwine’. Whilst Geoffrey Gaimar’s Estoire des Engleis, extensively reports the public trial of Earl Godwine for complicity in the death of Alfred, brother of Edward the Confessor, he does not describe his death resulting from trial-by-bread.
PhD in History