William of Newburgh

William of Newburgh

William of Newburgh or Newbury (Latin: Guilelmus Neubrigensis,[1] Wilhelmus Neubrigensis,[2] or Willelmus de Novoburgo.[3] 1136?–1198?), also known as William Parvus, was a 12th-century English historian and Augustinian canon of Anglo-Saxon descent from Bridlington, Yorkshire.

History of English Affairs

His major work was Historia rerum Anglicarum or Historia de rebus anglicis ("History of English Affairs"), a history of England from 1066 to 1198, written in Latin. The work is valued by historians for detailing The Anarchy under Stephen of England. It is written in an engaging fashion and still readable to this day, containing many fascinating stories and glimpses into 12th-century life. He is a major source for stories of medieval revenants, those souls who return from the dead, including early vampire stories,[4] and the only source for the bishop-pirate Wimund.

The 19th-century historian Edward Augustus Freeman expressed the now outdated opinion that William was "the father of historical criticism."[5] Indeed, he was very critical of King John, who he describes as "nature's enemy",[6] and in general his discussion of English kings is "loyal but critical and cool".[7]

Newburgh saw his own work as being based on reliable sources, unlike Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia Regum Britanniae, of which Newburgh was critical, saying "only a person ignorant of ancient history would have any doubt about how shamelessly and impudently he lies in almost everything."[8] He criticised Geoffrey for writing a history that conflicted with the accounts found in the writing of Bede.

Because belief in souls returning from the dead was common in the 12th century, Newburgh's Historia briefly recounts stories he heard about revenants, as does the work of Walter Map, his southern contemporary. Although they form a minor part in each work, these folklore accounts have attracted attention within occultism.[9] He also described the arrival of green children from "St. Martin's Land" (I.27) and other mysterious, wondrous occurrences. While he says that these have an apparent signification, he does not explain what that meaning might be: "he offers these prodigious events to his readers with questions, hesitations, and doubt – with, in short, all the confessions of a critical and honest mind".[10]

He also composed a lengthy Marian exposition on the Song of Songs and three sermons on liturgical texts and Saint Alban.


  1. "Guilielmi Neubrigensis Historia sive Chronica rerum anglicarum ...", openlibrary.org
  2. "Encyclopedia of the Medieval Chronicle", referenceworks.brillonline.com
  3. "Epistola Willelmi Viri Religiosi Canonici de Novoburgo Prefacionalis operis sequentis et Apologetica ad Abbatem Rievallis", Guilielmi Neubrigensis Historia sive Chronica rerum anglicarum ... (in Latin)
  4. The Encyclopedia of Monsters, by Daniel Cohen
  5. Edward Augustus Freeman (1878), Contemporary Review, XXXIII, p. 216 Missing or empty |title= (help)
  6. McGlynn, Sean (June 2010). "King John and the French invasion of England, BBC History magazine". Bristol Magazines. ISSN 1469-8552.
  7. Partner, Nancy F. (1977). Serious Entertainments: The Writings of History in Twelfth-Century England. University of Chicago Press. p. 97. ISBN 0226647633.
  8. Historia rerum Anglicarum, Book I, Preface, retrieved 7 January 2005
  9. see references in Medieval revenants
  10. Partner 115.


External links

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