William of Poitiers
Norman historian, b. of a noted family, at Preaux near Pont Audemer, Normandy, about 1020
William of Poitiers, Norman historian, b. of a noted family, at Preaux near Pont Audemer, Normandy, about 1020. One of his sisters was abbess of a monastery at Preaux. About 1040 he went to make his studies at Poitiers (whence his surname). After leading the life of a knight and taking part in several battles, he took orders, and became chaplain to Duke William the Conqueror, whose history he resolved to write. Hugh, Bishop of Lisieux, brought him to his cathedral and appointed him archdeacon. He fulfilled these duties under Hugh and his successor Gilbert Maminot, who had founded a sort of scholarly academy where astronomical and mathematical questions were discussed. William was considered one of the best informed men of his time; he knew the Greek and Latin authors. He lived to an extreme old age, the date of his death being unknown, but it is placed about 1087. He is chiefly known through Ordericus Vitalis (I, IV, passim), who speaks of his talent for versification and says that he communicated his verses to young students in order to instruct them in the poetic art. His sole extant work is his Life of William the Conqueror, “Gesta Guilelmi II, ducis Normannorum, regis Anglorum I”. It exists only in a single MS. (Cottonian MS., British Museum), almost destroyed, according to which the work has been published (ed. Duchesne, “Norman. Scriptores”, 178-213). This work was composed at a single writing, and was offered to King William by the author between 1071 and 1077. The beginning (as far as 1047) and the end of the work (from 1068) are lost. According to Ordericus Vitalis the account stopped at 1071. As sources he made use of Dudon de St. Quentin and annals now lost. He also interrogated the witnesses of events and reproduced in part personal recollections. Hence his work has the value of a contemporary source based on direct testimonies. Although the style has the pretentious character of the writings of that period, the composition is careful; the tone is that of a panegyric of William. Among the most important passages must be mentioned the sojourn of Harold in Normandy and the Conquest of England. Unfortunately the first part, dealing with the early life of Duke William, has disappeared. Editions of his works are: A. Duchesne, “Normannorum Scriptores” (Paris, 1619, 178-213), reproduced in P.L., XLIX, 1216-70; Giles, “Scriptores rerum gestarum Willelmi Conquestoris” (London, 1845), 78-159, French tr. Guizot, “Collection de memoires relatifs l’histoire de France” (Paris, 1826), XXIX.