Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Geoffrey of Monmouth, a scholarly clergyman who was to become bishop of St. Asaph’s in Wales, undertook to write a national history of Britain from its origin through the seventh century, some nineteen centuries of history by his reckoning. Arranged in twelve books, on the pattern of Vergil’s Aeneid (29-19 b.c.e.), Geoffrey’s account traces the reigns of nearly a hundred British kings, beginning with the nation’s mythical founder Brutus. As in the Aeneid, there is an important contrast between the first six and the final six books. The first part narrates events that took place over approximately ten centuries, while the latter six books, concerned primarily with the age of King Arthur, are limited to less than two centuries.
To a striking degree, the history is Welsh-centered, with most of the action occurring in Wales and the English counties that border it. It is reasonable to infer that in his writing Geoffrey was influenced by an intent to endow his native Wales and western Britain with a glorious past. For example, the river Severn, which flows through southwestern England, is the stream most often mentioned in Geoffrey’s account, though to history the Thames has greater importance. The original Trojans, Celts, and other tribes living in the land before the Roman conquest in the first century, as well as some Roman settlers, are all collectively labeled Britons. In Geoffrey’s account, they...
(The entire section is 1748 words.)
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