Robert of Gloucester


Robert of Gloucester
(fl. 1260–1300)
   Robert of Gloucester is credited with writing a late 13th-century MIDDLE ENGLISH verse chronicle of England that, in its full version, begins with the legendary founding of the island by Brutus and comes to an end with the death of Henry III and the ascension of Edward I in 1272. It is certain that at least three writers are responsible for the chronicle, which survives in two different versions, each with seven extant manuscripts. Robert was responsible probably only for the later material in the longer version of the text.
   Some scholars have suggested that Robert was a secular clerk, partly because none of the 14 extant manuscripts of the chronicle appear to have been produced at a monastic scriptorium.Most scholars, however, assume that Robert was a monk at the monastery of St. Peter’s in Gloucester, and that the text of the entire chronicle was ultimately compiled there.What is called the early version of the chronicle includes some 12,000 lines; the later or shorter version is 10,000 lines of verse. The author uses couplets of 14-syllable lines, with caesuras or breaks generally after the eighth syllable of each line. Both versions of the chronicle begin with the text of an earlier, apparently anonymous chronicle starting with the story of Brutus and running through the death of King Henry I (1135). This portion of the text relies heavily on the pseudohistory of GEOFFREY OF MONMOUTH, and supplements this with information from the Latin history of HENRY OF HUNTINGDON. The chronicle spends a good deal of time on the story of King ARTHUR, and has the distinction of being the second text in English, after LAYAMON’s Brut, to deal with the Arthurian story. In doing so, the writer seems to have made some use of Layamon’s text as well, and appears to have had some acquaintance with Arthurian ROMANCES, since he emphasizes Sir GAWAIN as the flower of courtesy.
   The portion of the text probably written by Robert of Gloucester is the continuation of the history after the death of Henry I, from the reign of King Stephen down through the death of Henry III, in the longer version of the text. This is the most significant portion of the chronicle, since it seems to contain firsthand accounts of some historical events, especially the town and gown riots that took place in Oxford in 1263, and the Battle of Evesham in 1265, at which Simon de Montfort was killed.
   The shorter version of the history, which also begins with the reign of Stephen and ends with the ascension of Edward in 1272, appears to be by a different hand than Robert’s longer text. It also adds some new material from Geoffrey of Monmouth and from Layamon to the earlier history. The chronicle was popular through the Middle Ages and into the early modern period, and was widely influential on other historians through the 18th century. Its description of Simon de Montfort’s death has been long admired, as has its loving praise of England. In addition to his chronicle, Robert of Gloucester was once proposed as the author of the SOUTH ENGLISH LEGENDARY, with which the chronicle has some stylistic and linguistic similarities, but that attribution is no longer seriously considered.
   Bibliography
   ■ Gransden,Antonia.Historical Writing in England, c. 550 to c. 1307. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1974.
   ■ Robert of Gloucester. The Metrical Chronicle of Robert of Gloucester. Edited by W. A.Wright. 2 vols. London: Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1887.

Encyclopedia of medieval literature. 2013.

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