Geoffrey of Monmouth was a twelfth century British churchman and writer. His most famous book is History of the Kings of Britain, a very important work in the development of the Arthurian legend. He referred to himself by the Latin name Galfridus Moemuntensis, indicating that he had some connection with the town of Monmouth in Wales, possibly his birthplace. He was also called Galfridus Arturus or Gafridus Artur during his lifetime, possibly indicating that his father was named Arthur or possibly because he became well known for his writings about King Arthur. In Welsh, he is known as Gruffudd ap Arthur or Sieffre o Fynwy.
Geoffrey is believed to have been born between 1090 and 1110, either in Wales or in an area near to the Welsh border in England. His name appears on some documents from the Oxford area written between 1129 and 1151, some of which call him magister or "teacher". He was made bishop of the Welsh diocese of Saint Asaph in 1152. There is no evidence that he ever visited his diocese. He probably died between December 25, 1154 and December 24, 1155 because a new bishop of Saint Asaph was appointed on December 25, 1155.
Three works are attributed to Geoffrey of Monmouth, all of them written in Latin and all of them featuring characters who would become important figures in legend and literature in the centuries to follow.
Geoffrey's first book, written before 1135, was Propetiae Merlini or Prophecies of Merlin, describing prophetic visions of the young Merlin, most of which referred to events in Geoffrey's own lifetime. Geoffrey of Monmouth was the first person to write about the legendary character in a language other than Welsh and is responsible for introducing the spelling "Merlin" to the world. The character's Welsh name is Myrddin. Why Geoffrey chose to Latinize the name as "Merlinus" instead of "Merdinus" is unknown. It has been suggested that that it was to avoid any connection with the rude French word merde.
Geoffrey's most famous work is Historia Regume Britanniae or History of the Kings of Britain, the first book to deal extensively with Arthurian legend. The book tells a fantastical story of some two thousand years of Britain and its kings from the time of the nation's founding by Brutus the Trojan (a direct descendant of Aeneas, the hero of The Aeneid) until the time of the Anglo-Saxon conquest. Geoffrey's earlier Prophecies of Merlin forms part of the book. Some historical events and figures feature in History of the Kings of Britain but most of it is either drawn from earlier legends or from Geoffrey's imagination. As well as the story of King Arthur, the book also features the earliest written versions of the tales that would later be adapted as the plays Cymbeline and King Lear by William Shakespeare.
The final book attributed to Geoffrey is Vita Merlini or Life of Merlin. The Merlin presented in the book is a wild man living in the woods, more closely resemblig the Merlin of legend than the young Merlin who had appeared in Geoffrey's previous works.
Although Geoffrey of Monmouth's writings popularized both Merlin and King Arthur in Europe, the two figures do not know each other in Geoffrey's stories. In History of the Kings of Britain Merlin is an advisor to King Vortigern and the king who defeats him, King Uther Pendragon, Arthur's father. He disappears from the story before Arthur is born.
- Works of Geoffrey of Monmouth in Latin and English on Wikisource.
- Quotations from Geoffrey of Monmouth on Wikiquote.
- Free public domain audiobooks of Geoffrey of Monmouth's works from LibriVox.
- Geoffrey of Monmouth on King Arthur Wiki.