Narrative Strategy in the Historia ecclesiastica of Orderic Vitalis
Date: 18 March 2014
University of Exeter
PhD in History
The Historia ecclesiastica of Orderic Vitalis is widely regarded as one of the most important examples of Norman historical writing. Written between c.1114 and 1141 at the monastery of Saint-Evroult on the southern frontier of Normandy, its thirteen books have a broad geographic scope, mixing events within the cloister with those taking ...
The Historia ecclesiastica of Orderic Vitalis is widely regarded as one of the most important examples of Norman historical writing. Written between c.1114 and 1141 at the monastery of Saint-Evroult on the southern frontier of Normandy, its thirteen books have a broad geographic scope, mixing events within the cloister with those taking place in Normandy, England, France, Spain, southern Italy and the Latin East. This thesis examines the question of why Orderic wrote the Historia. It employs close textual analysis to explore the way in which the purpose of the work is reflected in its content. Each of its four chapters focuses on a major part of the narrative. Chapter 1 examines the textual interplay between Saint-Evroult and southern Italy in books III to VII and challenges the notion that Orderic began the work with a narrow geographical horizon which only expanded in the later books. Chapters 2 and 3 are twin chapters on book IX of the Historia, Orderic’s account of the First Crusade. Chapter 2 argues that Orderic punctuated the narrative of book IX, which was based on the Historia Ierosolimitana of Baldric of Bourgueil, with numerous additional passages that deliberately anchored the story in the history of Saint-Evroult. Chapter 3 suggests that book IX was a wholesale reworking of Baldric’s account in which Orderic actively and carefully edited the text in order to ensure that it was suitable for incorporation into the Historia. Chapter 4, the final chapter, examines the effect of the reign of Henry I on Saint-Evroult in the final books of the Historia, books X to XIII. This chapter reveals the ways in which the history of Saint-Evroult and its network of associated houses was interwoven throughout the larger events of the reign of Henry I. It concludes with an examination of the impact of Henry’s death on the final book of the Historia, book XIII, resulting in the burning of the town of Saint-Evroult and instability at the end of Orderic’s life. This analysis reveals the extent to which the Historia ecclesiastica is concerned with the history of Saint-Evroult and its monks, patrons, heroes and enemies. The narrative expands outwards to include important material on distant geographical regions, but it consistently returns to the rich history of the monastery to recount numerous different aspects of its past, indicating that such material constitutes the beating heart of the Historia as a whole.
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