William of Malmesbury

Stained glass window showing William,
installed in Malmesbury Abbey in 1928
in memory of Rev. Canon C. D. H.
McMillan, Vicar of Malmesbury from
1907 to 1919.

A view of Malmesbury Abbey in Wiltshire, England. The Abbey was completed in 1180 AD, and remains in use as the parish church of Malmesbury.
A view of Malmesbury Abbey in Wiltshire,
. The Abbey was completed in
1180 AD, and remains in use as the parish
church of Malmesbury.

William of Malmesbury (c. 1080/1095 – c. 1143), English historian of the 12th century, was born about the year 1080/1095, in Wiltshire. His father was Norman and mother English. He spent his whole life in England with his best working years as a monk at Malmesbury Abbey.


The education William received at Malmesbury Abbey included a smattering of logic and physics; but moral philosophy was the subject to which he devoted most attention. In particular, he devoted himself to history, which he considered a branch of moral philosophy. He made a collection of medieval histories, and produced a popular account of English history, modelled on the Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum (Ecclesiastical History of the English People) of Bede.

In fulfilment of this idea, William produced about 1120 the Gesta regum anglorum (Deeds of the English kings (449-1127)), now considered by modern scholars to be one of the great histories of England. It was followed by the Gesta pontificum anglorum (Deeds of the English Bishops) in 1125. Subsequently William wrote on theological subjects. A revision of the Gesta regum anglorum was dedicated to Earl Robert of Gloucester in 1127.

William also formed an acquaintance with Bishop Roger of Salisbury, who had a castle at Malmesbury. It may have been due to these friends that he was offered the abbacy of Malmesbury in 1140, but he preferred to remain a scholar. His one public appearance was made at the council of Winchester in 1141, in which the clergy declared for the empress Matilda. About this date he wrote Historia Novella (New History (1128-1142)), giving an account of events since 1125, including important accounts of the anarchy of King Stephen's reign. This work breaks off abruptly at the end of 1142, with an unfulfilled promise that it will be continued. Presumably William died before he could redeem his pledge.


He is considered to be one of the best English historians of his time, Milton’s opinion, that "both for style and judgment" William is "by far the best writer of all" the twelfth century chroniclers. A strong Latin stylist, he shows literary and historiographical instincts which are, for his time, remarkably sound. He is an authority of considerable value from 1066 onwards; many telling anecdotes and many shrewd judgments on persons and events can be gleaned from his pages.


  • William of Malmesbury: Gesta Regum Anglorum (Deeds of the English Kings), Vol I, Edited and Translated by R. A. B. Mynors, Oxford University Press, 1998. ISBN 019820678X
  • William of Malmesbury: Gesta Regum Anglorum (Deeds of the English Kings), Volume II: General Introduction and Commentary, R. M. Thomson and M. Winterbottom, Oxford Universitynts' Lives, Edited by M. Winterbottom and R. M. Thomson, Oxford University Press, 2002, ISBN 0198207093
  • William of Malmesbury: Historia Novella (The Contemporary History), Edited by Edmund King, translated by K. R. Potter, Oxford University Press, 1999, ISBN 0198201923
  • William of Malmesbury, Chronicle of the Kings of England, Translation by Rev. John Sharpe, 1815. J.A. Giles, editor. London: George Bell and Sons, 1904.
  • William of Malmesbury: The Deeds of the Bishops of England [Gesta Pontificum Anglorum], Translated by David Preest, 2002, ISBN 0851158846
  • Rodney M Thomson, William of Malmesbury, ISBN 1843830302

This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.

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