1902 Encyclopedia > Richard of Cirencester

Richard of Cirencester
English historical writer
(1335-1401)




RICHARD OF CIRENCESTER (1335-1401), historical writer, was a member of the Benedictine abbey at West-minster, and his name (" Circestre") first appears on the chamberlain's list of the monks of that foundation drawn up in the year 1355. In the year 1391 he obtained a licence from the abbot to go to Rome, his design being to visit limina Apostolorum, and in this licence the abbot gives his testimony to Richard's perfect and sincere ob-servance of religion for upwards of thirty years. In 1400 Richard was in the infirmary of the abbey, where his death took place in the following year. His only known extant work is Speculum Historiale de Gestis Regum Anglise, IpIfl-1066. The manuscript of this is in the university library at Cambridge, and has been edited for the Master of the Rolls by Professor John E. B. Mayor (2 vols., 1863-1869). It is in four books, and at the con-clusion of the fourth book Richard expresses his intention of continuing his narrative from the accession of William I., and incorporating a sketch of the Conqueror's career from his birth. This design he does not, however, appear to have carried into effect. The value of the Speculum as a contribution to our historical knowledge is but slight, for it is mainly a compilation from Rodger Wendover, Geoffrey of Monmouth, William of Malmesbury, Florence, Asser, Henry of Huntingdon, and other writers; while even in transcribing these the compiler is guilty of great carelessness. He gives, however, numerous charters relat-ing to Westminster Abbey, and also a very complete account of the saints whose tombs were in the abbey church, and especially of Edward the Confessor, with whose reign the fourth book is entirely occupied. The work was, notwithstanding, largely used by historians and antiquaries, until, with the rise of a more critical spirit, its value became more accurately estimated. Besides the Speculum Richard also wrote, according to the statement of William Woodford in his Answer to Wickliffe (Brown, Fasciculus Rerum expetendarum, p. 193), a treatise De OJftciis; and there was formerly in the cathedral library at Peterborough another tractate from his pen, entitled Super Symbolum. Of neither of these works, however, does any known copy now exist.





Of the Speculum the main value may be said to be of a negative character, in that it affords the most conclusive proof of the spuriousness of another work attributed to Richard and long accepted by the learned world as his. This was the De Situ Britannia, an elaborate forgery relating to the antiquities of Roman Britain which first appeared at Copenhagen in the year 1757. It was printed along with the works of Gildas and Nennius, under the editorship of Charles Julius Bertram, professor of English in the academy of Copenhagen in the middle of the last century, with the following special title:—" Richardi Corinensis monachi Westmonasteriensis de situ Britannise libri duo. E Codici MS. descripsit, Notisque et Indice adornavit Carolus Bertram."

This forgery was accepted as genuine by a well-known antiquary of the last century, Dr William Stukeley, and under the sanction of his authority continued for a long time to be regarded in the same light by numerous scholars and antiquaries. Among their number were Gibbon, John Whitaker, Richard Gough, and Lingard. On the other hand, critics of a later date, such as J. J. Conybeare, Dr Guest, Wex, liaine, and Woodward, from time to time j'ave expression, on various grounds, to a contrary con- clusion. All doubt on the subject may, however, be held to have been effectually set at rest by the masterly-and exhaustive exposure of the whole fraud drawn up by Professor Mayor in the preface to the edition above referred to of the Speculum. He has there not only demonstrated, from the external and internal evidence alike, the spuriousness of the whole treatise, but in a collation (extending to nearly a hundred pages) of numerous passages with corresponding passages in classical mediceval authorities, has also traced out the various sources from whence Bertram derived the terminology and the facts which he reproduced in the De Situ. "To say nothing," says Professor Mayor, '' of antiquaries whose canons of criticism are so lax that they cite a supposed monk of 1400 A.D. as authority for events of 1000 B.C., we iind a forger alike contemptible as penman, Latinist, historian, geographer, critic, imposing upon members of the Royal and Antiquarian Societies, and of the two ancient universities, of the youthful Society D. U. K., on the writers of Germany and Denmark, of England, and of Scotland,—the last bribed by the invention of Vespasiana." (J. B. M.)






The above article was written by: J. Bass Mullinger.



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