[also known as Geoffrey of Monmouth; Gruffudd ap Arthur; Sieffre o Fynwy; Galfridus Monemutensis (Arturus)]

, or Geoffrey, of Monmouth (ap Arthur), the famous British historian, who flourished in the time of Henry I. was born at Monmouth, and probably educated in the Benedictine monastery near that place; for Oxford and Cambridge had not yet risen to any great height, and bad been lately depressed by the Danish invasion so that monasteries were at this time the principal seminaries of learning. Tradition still points out a small apartment of the above monastery as his library; it bears in the ceiling and windows remains of former magnificence, but is much more modern than the age of Jeffery. He was made | archdeacon of Monmouth, and afterwards promoted to the bishopric of St. Asaph in 1152. He is said by some to have been raised to the dignity of a cardinal also, but on no apparent good grounds. Robert earl of Gloucester, natural son of Henry I. and Alexander bishop of Lincoln, were his particular patrons; the first a person of great eminence and authority in the kingdom, and celebrated for his learning; the latter, for being the greatest patron of learned men in that time, and himself a great scholar and statesman.

Leland, Bale, and Pits inform us, that Walter Mapreus, or Mapes, alias Calenius, who was at this time archdeacon of Oxford, and of whom Henry of Huntingdon, and other historians, as well as Jeffery himself, make honourable mention, as a man very curious in the study of antiquity, and a diligent searcher into ancient libraries, and especially after the works of ancient authors, happened while he was in Armorica to meet with a history of Britain, written in the British tongue, and carrying marks of great antiquity. Being overjoyed at his discovery, he in a short time came over to England, where inquiring for a proper person to translate this curious but hitherto unknown book, he very opportunely met with Jeffery of Monmouth, a man profoundly versed in the history and antiquities of Britain, excellently skilled in the British tongue, and besides (considering the time) an elegant writer, both in verse and prose; and to him he recommended the task. Jeffery accordingly undertook to translate it into Latin; which he performed with great diligence, approving himself, according to Matthew Paris, a faithful translator. At first he divided it into four books, written in a plain simple style, a copy of which is said to be at Bene’t-college, Cambridge, which was never yet published; but afterwards made some alterations, and divided it into eight books, to which he added the book of “Merlin’s Prophecies,” which he had also translated from British verse into Latin prose. A great many fabulous and trifling stories are inserted in the history, upon which account Jeffery’s integrity has been called in question and many authors, Polydore Vevgil, Buchanan, and some others, treat the whole as fiction and forgery. On the other hand, he is defended by very learned men, such as Usher, Leland, Sheringham, sir John Rice, and many more. His advocates do not deny, that there are several absurd and incredible stories inserted in this book; | but, as he translated or borrowed them from others, the truth of the history ought not to be rejected in the gross, though the credulity of the historian may deserve censure. Canulen alleges, that his relation of Brutus, and his successors in those ancient times, ought to be entirely disregarded, and would have our history commence with Caesar’s attempt upon the island, which advice has since been followed by the generality of our historians. But Milton pursues the old beaten tract, and alleges thai we cannot be easily discharged of Brutus and his line, with the whole progeny of kings to the entrance of Julius Ca-sar; since it is a story supported by descents of ancestry, and long continued laws and exploits, which have no appearance of being borrowed or devised. Cainden, indeed, would insinuate, that the name of Brutus was unknown to the ancient Britons, and that Jeffery was the first person who feigned him founder of their race. But Henry of Huntingdon had published, in the beginning of his history, a short account of Brutus, and made the Britons the descendants of the Trojans, before he knew any thing of Jeffery’s British history: and he professes to have had this account from various authors. Sigibertus Gemblacensis, a French author, somewhat more early than Jeffery, or Henry of Huntingdon (for he died, according to Beilarmine, in 1112) gives an account of the passage of Brutus, grandson of Ascanius, from Greece to Albion, at the head of the exiled Trojans and teljs us, that he called the people and country after his own name, and at last left three sons to succeed him, after he had reigned twentyfour years. Hence he passes summarily over the affairs of the Britons, agreeably to the British history, till they were driven into Wales by the Saxons.

Nennius, abbot of Bauchor, who flourished, according to some accounts, in the seventh century, or however, without dispute, some hundreds of years before Jeffery’s time, has written very copiously concerning Brutus; recounting Jhis genealogy from the patriarch Noah, and relating the sum of his adventures in a manner that differs but in few circumstances from the British history. Giraldus Cambrensis, contemporary with Jeffery, says, that in his time the Welsh bards and singers could repeat by heart, from their ancient and authentic books, the genealogy of their princes from Roderic the Great to Belim the Great and from him to Sylvius, Ascanius, and Æneas, and from | Æneas lineally carry up their pedigree to Adam. From these authorities it appears, that the story of Brutus is not the produce of Jeffery’s invention, but, if it be a fiction, is of much older date.

There are two editions of Jeffery’s history extant in, Latin, one of which was published in 4to, by Ascensius, at Paris, A. D. 1517; the other in folio by Commeline, at Heidelberg, 1587, among the “Rerum Britannicarum. Scriptores vetustiores praecipui,” which is much the fairer and more correct edition. A translation of it into English by Aaron Thompson, of Queen’s-college, was published at London, 1718, in 8vo, with a large preface, in which the translator offers an elaborate vindication of the work, and defends Jeffery with great skill and learning; but, after refuting the charge of forgery, he has failed in establishing- it as an historical performance; for he himself invalidates its authority by acknowledging, that it was pnly such an irregular account as the Britons were able ta preserve in those times of destruction and confusion; besides some other romantic tales, which indeed might be traditions among the Welsh, and such as Jeffery might think entertaining stories for the credulity of the times.

We have, however, no need of any other arguments than the confession of Jeffery himself, who acknowledges that the history of Britain was not wholly a translation of the Welsh manuscript; he avows that he added several parts, particularly Merlin’s Prophecies, before-mentioned, and inserted some circumstances “which he had heard from that most learned historian, Walter archdeacon of Oxford.

The controversy, says Mr. Coxe, in his “Tour in Monmouthshire,” is at length finally decided, and the best Welsh critics allow, that Jeffery’s work was a vitiated translation of the History of the British Kings, written by Tyssilio, or St. Talian, bishop of St. Asaph, who flourished in the seventh century. Jeffery in his work omitted many parts, made considerable alterations, additions, and interpolations, latinised mariy of the British appellations, and in the opinion of a learned Welshman ,*


Letter from Lewis Morris to Edward Richard, Cambrian Register for 1795, p. 347.

murdered Tyssilio we may therefore conclude, that Jeffery ought to be no more cited as historical authority than Amadis de Gaul, | or the Seven Champions of Christendom. But, says the same judicious author, whatever opinion may be entertained in regard to its authenticity, Jetfery’s British History forms a new epoch in the literature of this country; and next to the history, of Charlemagne, by Turpin, probably written in the eleventh Century, was the first production which introduced that species of composition called romance.

The work of Jeffery is extremely entertaining, and his fables have been frequently clothed in rhyme. In the thirteenth century, Robert, a monk of the abbey of Gloucester, wrote an history of England in verse, in the Alexandrian measure, from Brutus to the reign of Edward I. Warton justly observes, in his History of English Poetry, “that the tales have often a more poetical air in Jeffery’s prose than in this rhyming chronicle, which is totally destitute of art or imagination, and, from its obsolete language, scarcely intelligible.” This historical romance, however, was not only versified by monkish writers, but supplied some of our best poets with materials for their sublime compositions. Spenser, in the second book of his Faerie Queene, has given,

"A chronicle of British kings,

From Brute to Arthur’s rayne."

In this historical romance is also to be found, the affecting history of Leir king of Britain, the eleventh in succession after Brutus, who divided his kingdom between Gonerilla and Regan, his two elder daughters, and disinherited his youngest daughter Cordeilla. From this account Shakspeare selected his incomparable tragedy of “King Lear,” but improved the pathos by making the death of Cordeilla (which name he softened after the ex?, in pie- of Spenser into Cordelia) precede that of Lear, while, in the original story, the aged father is restored to his kingdom, and survived by Cordeilla. Milton seems to have been particularly fond of Jeffery’s tales, to which he was indebted for the beautiful fiction of Sabrina in the “Mask of Comus.1


Thompson’s Preface. Bale, Pits, and Tanner. Nicolson’s Hist. Library,