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Gesta pontificum Anglorum

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Gesta pontificum Anglorum

The Gesta Pontificum Anglorum or Deeds of the English Bishops was a medieval literary work by William of Malmesbury covering the history of the English episcopate. The work was in Medieval Latin and was composed between 1118 and 1125.

Although William's concurrent work, the Gesta Regum Anglorum, drew heavily on the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle for both structure and content, in the Gesta Pontificum the author had no ready guide and had to set up a new structure for the work. This he did by arranging his material by diocese, starting with Canterbury, and grouping the dioceses by the ancient Anglo-Saxon kingdoms they had belonged to. Within the description and history of each diocese, William wrote about the bishops and monasteries, plus any additional interesting information.[1]

The Gesta Pontificum, in the manner of many chroniclers' continuations, begins where Bede's Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum left off, and ends at William's own time. William used a number of sources. In turn, his work became the basis of a number of later works dealing with ecclesiastical history, including those written at Durham, Bury St Edmunds and Worcester.[2]

One of William's themes in the Gesta Pontificum, as in his Gesta Regum is that the Norman's invasion and conquest of England saved the English and rescued their civilization from the barbarities of the native English and restored England to the Latin culture of the continent. One aspect of this theme was William's reluctance to give Anglo-Saxon names in their native form, instead Latinizing them.[3]

Although the work was finished about 1125, William continued to revise it over the next decade or so. The Gesta Pontificum enjoyed reasonable success and was known in England during the next century, although its popularity paled besides that of its companion work, the Gesta Regum, which within William's lifetime was known not only in England, but in Flanders, France and Normandy.[4]

In a critical edition published in 1870, N. E. S. A. Hamilton demonstrated that the Magdalen College, Oxford, manuscript catalogued as MS lat. 172 is by the hand of William himself. This takes the form of a pocket-sized book, its parchment leaves measuring 7.1 by 4.8 inches. At the head of folio 1 is the Malmesbury Abbey impressed mark, and a pagination in Arabic numerals in a 14th-century hand indicates that no pages have been lost since then. Unhappily, some of William's marginalia are affected by a trimming by a bookbinder in the 17th century.[5]

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