Introduced by Peter Ackroyd
Malmesbury’s fascinating, ebullient history is presented anew in a beautifully designed edition featuring full-page illuminations.
In the early 12th century, with encouragement from Queen Matilda, William, the librarian of Malmesbury Abbey, began to write a history of the English kings. Born to a Norman father and an English mother at a time when the Norman Conquest was a fresh memory, William had a unique perspective on English history. His work was an ambitious one, stretching from the first arrival of Saxon invaders right up to his own time, and involving extensive first-hand research. It was daring too, since William did not hesitate to include some trenchant criticisms of the Norman kings.
In his ardent introduction to our edition, Peter Ackroyd asserts that the author should share with Bede the title of ‘father of English history’. As Ackroyd points out, William was a great historian because he was a great writer – one who believed that history should be written with ‘a competence and splendour that would engage the spirit as well as arouse the mind’. In this lively translation, his voice comes to us clearly from across the centuries: ‘I began to get the itch to write myself, not to show off my more or less nonexistent erudition but in order to bring forcibly into the light things lost in the rubbish-heap of the past.’ Whether he is outraged by Osred, who led a ‘shameful existence in the ravishing of nuns’, or delighted by Earconberht because he forced Lent on a people who were ‘simply the slaves of their own stomachs’, William is always entertaining. This glorious Folio edition will bring pleasure to anyone with a love of English history and fine writing – his work deserves a much wider audience. In addition it contains full-page illuminations depicting dramatic moments from the Deeds, all sourced from medieval manuscripts.
After studying an original manuscript written and signed by William himself, our design team was inspired to give our edition a particularly special treatment. Initial letters have been hand-drawn by the calligrapher Charlotte Orr, each one unique. Display fonts and chapter headings are picked out in rubric, while even the deep lower margin is a reflection of the original layout’s ‘golden rectangle’ design. The edition also features gilded top page edges. The result is an entirely modern response to the idiosyncratic beauty of medieval manuscripts.
Click here to read a blog post by Designer Charlotte Tate on Malmesbury’s manuscripts.
His reputation as an historian survived the succeeding centuries, and he was praised in the seventeenth century by John Milton as ‘by far the best of all’ the twelfth-century chroniclers in terms of both ‘style and judgement’. Milton’s own History of Britain owes much to William both as example and as inspiration. He was admired in the nineteenth century by scholars such as M. R. James, and so great is his influence that many of the events and details of his Gesta regum are still repeated by contemporary historians.
So in all the most important respects he was the complete historian; he was not unduly biased, and his narrative is a faithful attempt by him to convey all that he heard and read. If there have been greater historians in England, it is hard to think of one who was more sedulous and conscientious. He must share with his great predecessor, Bede, the title of father of English history.
Peter Ackroyd is an extraordinarily prolific and successful poet, novelist, biographer and, more recently, television presenter. Many of his books trace themes in the culture of London and England from the ancient past to the present, including London: The Biography (2000) and Albion: The Origins of the English Imagination (2002). The second volume of his planned six-volume A History of England was published in 2012.
Sir Roger Mynors (1903–89) was one of the leading classical scholars of his time. A professor at Cambridge and then Oxford University, he was an expert on ancient church manuscripts. He was a member of the Literary Committee for the New English Bible, and in 1966 was appointed president of the Classical Association.
Rodney M. Thomson is Professor Emeritus and Honorary Research
Associate in the School of History and Classics, University of Tasmania.
Michael Winterbottom was formerly Corpus Christi Professor of Latin Language and Literature, University of Oxford.
Please sign in to your account to leave a review for The Deeds of the English Kings.
Review by RedRiverD on 19th Oct 2016
"I have been collecting FS volumes for over ten years; this is my favorite. I will mention my only criticism first, so as not to finish this review on a negative. Rarely have I felt so sorely the absen..." [read more]
Review by archbold on 30th Jan 2015
"Even from the outside this is a very special book. The gilded top edge is reminiscent of sumptuous old publications and is echoed in the lavish use of gold on the cover design and spine. Inside even g..." [read more]