Fitzstephen, William

, an English historian of the twelfth century, and author of the earliest description of London extant, was of Norman extractio/i, but born of creditable parents in London. He was a monk of Canterbury, was dispatched to his holiness the pope, who was then probably at Rome or Benevento, once at least, and was much connected with archbishop Becket. He tells us h msel f that he was one of his clerks, and an inmate in h s family. He was also a remembrancer in his exchequer; a subdeacon in his chapel whenever he officiated a reader of Lil’s and petitions, when the archbishop sat to hear and determine causes, and sometimes, when his grace was pleased to order it, Fitzstephen performed the office of an advocate. He was also present with him at Northampton, and was an eye-witness of his murder at Canterbury, continuing with him after his other servants had had deserted him. He has reported a speech which he made on occasion of the archbishop’s sitting alone, with the cross in his hand, at Northampton, when he was forsaken by his suffragans, and expected, as he relates it, to be assaulted and murdered. This speech is memorable, and breathes | more of a Christian spirit than we should have expected in those days. One of the archbishdp’s friends had recommended, that if any violent attempt was made upon his person, immediately to excommunicate the parties, which then was the most dreadful vengeance an ecclesiastic could inflict. Fitzstephen, on the contrary, said, “Far be that from my lord. The holy apostles and martyrs, when they suffered, did not behave in that manner,” and endeavoured to dissuade the archbishop from taking a step that would appear to proceed from anger and impatience, &c. This worthy monk is supposed to have died in 1191; but authors vary much as to the particular time when he composed his work, although it seems certain that he wrote it in the reign of Henry II. and that it was part of another work, “The Life and Passion of archbishop Becket.” Dr. Pegge fixes the period between the years I 170 and 1182. This “Description of the City of London,” affords, after Domesday Book, by far the most early account we have of that metropolis, and, to use his editor’s words, we may challenge any nation in Europe to produce an account of its capital, or any other of its great cities, at so remote a period as the twelfth century. It was accordingly soon noticed by Leland and Stowe, who inserted a translation of it in his “Survey of London.” But this edition was grown not only obsolete, but incorrect, when Dr. Pegge published in 1772, 4to, a more accurate translation, with notes, and a preliminary dissertation on the author. Fitzstephen was a person of excellent learning for his age. He was well versed in Horace, Virgil, Sallust, Ovid, Lucan, Persius, and with perhaps many other of the Latin classics, and had even peeped into Plato and some of the Greeks. If he was in some respects a little too credulous, it must be imputed to the times he lived in. His account of London, however, is in all views, curious and interesting, and the composition easy, natural, and methodical. 1


Edition by Dr. Pegge, preface and dissertation.