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Ordericus Vitalis

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Historian, b. 1075; d. about 1143. He was the son of an English mother and a French priest who came over to England with the Normans and received a church at Shrewsbury. At the age of ten he was sent over by his father to St. Evroult in southern Normandy and remained for the rest of his life a monk of that abbey. He must have travelled occasionally: we have evidence of his presence at Cambrai, for instance, and at Cluny, and went three or four times to England : still he passed of his days at home. He considered himself, however, an Englishman, "Vitalis Angligena", and was always full of interest in English affairs. His history was intended at first to be a chronicle of his abbey but it developed into a general "Historia Ecclesiastica" in 13 books. Books I and II are an abridged chronicle from the Christian era to 1143; books III-V describe the Norman Conquests of South Italy and England ; book VI gives the history of his abbey. Books VII-XIII consist of his universal history from 751 to 1141, book IX being devoted to the First Crusade . The work begins to have real historical importance from about the date of the Norman Conquest, but Ordericus is discriminating throughout in his choice of authorities. Chronologically it is ill-arranged and very inaccurate; it is often pedantic in form. The author has, however, a wide interest and a keen sense of detail and picturesque incident. He was a very well-read man, but he united to his learning a taste seldom so frankly admitted for popular stories and songs. He was a man of observation and he attempted to give the outward appearance of the characters he described. He was fair-minded, anxious to give two sides of a question and to be moderate in his judgments. In spite, therefore, of its clumsy arrangements and chronological errors the "Historia Ecclesiastica" gives a very vivid picture of the times and is of great historical value. A competent authority has declared it the best French history of the twelfth century. Ordericus was also something of a poet and there are manuscripts of his collected Latin poems. The best text of the "Historia Ecclesiastica" is that edited by Le Prévost for the "Société de l'histoire de France" (5 vols., 1838-55). The fifth volume contains a valuable introduction by L. Delisle. There is also a text in Migne, vol. CLXXXVIII. A French translation was published in Guizot's "Collection des mémoires" and an English translation in Bohn's "Antiquarian Library" (4 vols., 1853-5).

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