Leah Shopkow

title.none: King, ed., and Potter, trans., William of Malmesbury: Historia Novella (Shopkow)

identifier.other: baj9928.0103.002 01.03.02

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Leah Shopkow, Indiana University,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2001

identifier.citation: King, Edmund ed. and K. R. Potter, trans. Historia Novella, The Contemporary History. Oxford Medieval Texts. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998. Pp. cix, 143. $72.00. ISBN: 0-198-20192-3.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 01.03.02

King, Edmund ed. and K. R. Potter, trans. Historia Novella, The Contemporary History. Oxford Medieval Texts. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998. Pp. cix, 143. $72.00. ISBN: 0-198-20192-3.

Reviewed by:

Leah Shopkow
Indiana University

This edition of William of Malmesbury's Historia Novella (HN) is a reconception of the edition (prepared by R. A. B. Mynors) and accompanying translation written by K. R. Potter published in 1955 in the Nelson's Medieval Text series. In this reworking it has received a new Latin text, a new and much more extensive introduction, new and much richer notes to the text, and a slighted altered translation at the hands of Edmund King.

Why a new Latin text? All of the scholars have been clear that the manuscript tradition of the HN represents two editions, the earlier AB edition and the later Ce edition. Stubbs, in his edition of the text for the Rolls Series (RS 90, 1887-89) concluded that the Ce edition was the work of William of Malmesbury himself. William had prepared three editions of his earlier work, the Gesta regum Anglorum (GR) (for these editions, see the lengthy discussion in William of Malmesbury, Gesta regum Anglorum, ed. and trans. R. A. B. Mynors, R. M. Thomson and M. Winterbottom, 2 vols. [Oxford, 1998-99] 1:xiii-xxx; 2:xvii-xxxv). He was an author noted for his frequent revisions of his work, so it made perfect sense to assume that where more than one roughly contemporaneous editions existed that both were William's work. Moreover the prime witness to the Ce version of the text, BL Royal 13 D ii, came from Margam, a house founded by Robert, count of Gloucester, William's lay patron. Consequently Stubbs and R. A. B. Mynors, who edited the Latin text that accompanies Potter's translation, chose the Margam text as the base text in their editions.

King does not dispute the association of the Ce version of the HN with Robert of Gloucester. In fact, he speculates that this text may even have been revised by Gloucester himself (xciv), although he argues that it was at least done in Robert's circle and for his eyes. However, he contends that this second edition was probably not William's own work, because the inclusions render the text awkward in a manner inconsistent with William's other writing and with the earlier edition of the HN. King suggests that the reviser used a copy of the HN containing marginal glosses which he rather clumsily imported wholesale into his version. This argument is plausible. Thus King uses the AB version of the HN with all its variants as the base text, rather than the CE version. The consequence is that he presents a sort of mirror-image of Mynors' Latin text. Whereas in the earlier edition, the Ce version appears in the text and the AB variants are noted in the apparatus, in King's edition, the AB version appears in the text and the Ce variants (as well as variants within the AB tradition) and additions appear in the apparatus.

While this change may be desirable from the perspective of authenticity--the main text being then what William wrote rather than a later reworking--it makes less difference than one might think. As King himself notes, "the total number of additions is not great" (lxxx) and there are in addition changes in words and phrases, but the most immediately striking difference is the provision by the revisor of rubrics for the chapters. These differences are sufficiently minor to mean that it was still possible to keep the bulk of Potter's translation. The sensible decision was generally made, where the Ce and AB texts differ, for the most part to keep the Ce additions (and variations, where these are significant) as part of the translated text; that material appears in square brackets. There are a few other minor differences in the translation. To give an example, King's version of King Stephen's oath to his magnates in 1136 reads (with Potter's version in square brackets) I Stephen, by the grace of God, with the approval of the clergy and people, elected [chosen] king of England, consecrated by Lord William, archbishop of Canterbury [William Lord Archbishop of Canterbury] and legate of the Holy Roman See, and afterwards confirmed by Innocent, pontiff of the Holy Roman See, from regard and love for God grant that Holy Church shall be free and confirm to it the reverence that I owe. (King, 35; Potter, 18) King has substituted "elected" for "chosen" to translate "electus," this change bringing the English closer to the Latin, somewhat technical, vocabulary. The second change reflects the Latin word ordering. Sometimes the changes can have subtle effects, as when it comes to William's account of the eclipse of 1140: That year in Lent, on 20 March [March 20th], at the ninth hour on a Wednesday, there was an eclipse, all over England, I have heard. With us certainly and all our neighbours the sun was so notably absent [it was such a remarkable eclipse] that at first men sitting at table, as they mostly were at the time, [it being Lent] feared the primeval chaos; then, hearing [learning] what it was, they ["they" missing in Potter] went out and saw the stars round the sun. It was thought and said by many, nor were they wrong, that the king would not survive [pass] the year in office [Ce adds without loss]. (King, 74, 75; Potter 42-3) The phrase "it being Lent" is one of the rare cases where King has omitted a Ce reading from the translation. Both "hearing" and "learning" translate "re cognita," and both "pass the year" and "survive the year" translate "perannaturum." The final addition of the Ce text appears as above in King's version of Potter's translation. As in the case above, the changes partially bring the English text closer to the Latin--both "the sun was so notably absent" and "it was such a remarkable eclipse" translate "ita notabiliter solis deliquium fuit," but the former is more literal. King's omission of "it being Lent" serves to disambiguate Potter's translation, which places "it being Lent" after, rather than before "men sitting at table" (in the Latin, it appears before that phrase); it would be possible for an inattentive reader of the English to assume that the sitting at table was related to it being Lent rather than the Lenten season giving rise to the fear of the end of the world. There is not much difference between "hearing" and "learning" although perhaps one could also choose "understanding" in this instance. King's decision to translate "perannaturum" as "survive the year" rather than "pass the year" seems to be influenced by a desire to make clear the change in meaning wrought on William's first text by the addition of the words "sine dispendio" ("without loss") in the Ce version. The Ce author's hindsight made it clear that Stephen had indeed survived the year and perhaps many more, although not, as he adds, without loss. William's greater closeness to the events might quite properly have led him to refer to a circulating rumor that Stephen was about to be struck down by God, particularly since this passage follows closely upon his summary account of the terrible year immediately preceding (37) and sandwiched in between Stephen's arrest of Roger of Salisbury and Alexander of Lincoln and Stephen's abandonment by the bishops.

Although historians will find these textual variations useful, in that they clarify William's last thoughts on various historical subjects and distinguish them from those of the later reviser, who in turn offers clues to how Robert of Gloucester saw himself (as King points out [xci], the changes throw even greater emphasis on Robert than the first edition had done) and how his party saw events, ordinary readers will not find that the overall tenor of William's work is much different; they will mostly notice the absence of the paragraph rubrics added by William's reviser. By this I do not mean at all to suggest that these changes are unimportant, but simply that they are relatively subtle.

But if the edition and translation will not seem appreciably different to the lay reader from the earlier published text, this edition does add substantial value. The introductory material to Potter's translation, although quite useful, was summary. King's introduction, in contrast, is lengthy and detailed, offering not only a detailed discussion of the political events of the period William chronicled--his view of the Empress Matilda is more nuanced and less hostile than the picture of Matilda-the-harridan Potter sketched--but a much more complete discussion of William's career and works before his composition of the HN (his last work) and a very interesting discussion of how the HN was used and understood. He makes a strong case for the importance of the HN to modern scholars even though in the Middle Ages, the "HN came to be valued not primarily as a record but rather as part of the oeuvre of a major historian." (xcv) The introduction also contains a lengthy discussion of the two editions and extensive comparisons of the differences between the two versions. The notes that accompany the introduction and text are both valuable and extensive--they offer direct access not only to William's bibliography, but to the bibliography of the Anarchy as well, as well as many side notes. Potter assumed a great deal about the state of knowledge of the reader, but readers who love an annotated text and actually read footnotes (yes, that's me) will have much pleasure. There is a good index, in which the longest entries, on Matilda, Stephen, Robert of Gloucester, Henry of Blois, and William of Malmesbury--the author and the major players--are set apart by additional spacing, a capitalized heading, and indentation (this seems unnecessary to me, but not foolish). Finally, the edition offers plates of four of the manuscripts illustrating King's points about the editions and the reception of the text.

The edition also makes what I think is a felicitous decision to take the final step to liberate the HN from its dependence on the GR. The desire to see the HNas dependent is legitimate as it reflects the manuscript tradition. The HN appears only accompanied by the GR in the manuscripts (although sometimes it was copied to accompany a text of the GR already in existence) and sometimes is presented as "Book Six" of that work (in the B version). Before the Mynors-Potter edition and translation the HN was always printed as part of an edition of the GR and even in the 1955 edition, the paragraphs were numbered continuously from the GR, so that the first paragraph was 450. To treat it as an extension of the GR is to present the text as medieval readers actually encountered it. But the HN initially circulated independently of the GR, at least until medieval critical opinion decided that it was simply part of that work, so King's treatment reflects a modern view of the [albeit unfinished] work's integrity. He thus begins his numeration of the text with paragraph 1, although the older numeration is kept in the margin of the Latin text.

In sum? A well-produced book with much to offer its readers, students and scholars alike. It joins the new edition and translation of the GR now in print, also in the Oxford Medieval Texts series. Now, will someone please do a modern edition and translation of William's Gesta Pontificum?