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Histories of the Kings of Britain

Geoffrey of Monmouth


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Description

Historia regum Britanniae (The History of the Kings of Britain), is an account of British history, written around 1136 by Geoffrey of Monmouth. It chronicles the lives of the kings of the Britons over the course of two thousand years, beginning with the Trojans founding the British nation and continuing until the Anglo-Saxons assumed control of much of Britain around the 7th century. Even though it is now considered to have no real historical basis (the accounts of Julius Caesar's invasion of Britain, for example, is very different to more established accounts), it remains a valuable piece of medieval literature.

This book has 255 pages in the PDF version. This translation by Sebastian Evans was originally published in 1904.

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Excerpt from 'Histories of the Kings of Britain'

Britain, best of islands, lieth in the Western Ocean betwixt Gaul and Ireland, and containeth eight hundred miles in length and two hundred in breadth. Whatsoever is fitting for the use of mortal men the island doth afford in unfailing plenty. For she aboundeth in metals of every kind; fields hath she, stretching far and wide, and hillsides meet for tillage of the best, whereon, by reason of the fruitfulness of the soil, the divers crops in their season do yield their harvests. Forests also hath she filled with every manner of wild deer, in the glades whereof groweth grass that the cattle may find therein meet change of pasture, and flowers of many colours that do proffer their honey unto the bees that flit ever busily about them. Meadows hath she, set in pleasant places, green at the foot of misty mountains, wherein be sparkling well-springs clear and bright, flowing forth with a gentle whispering ripple in shining streams that sing sweet lullaby unto them that lie upon their banks. Watered is she, moreover, by lakes and rivers wherein is much fish, and, besides the narrow sea of the Southern coast whereby men make voyage unto Gaul, by three noble rivers, Thames, to wit, Severn and Humber, the which he stretcheth forth as it were three arms whereby she taketh in the traffic from oversea brought hither from every land in her fleets.

Of Duke Æneass

By twice ten cities, moreover, and twice four, was she graced in days of old, whereof some with shattered walls in desolate places be now fallen into decay, whilst some, still whole, do contain churches of the saints with towers builded wondrous fair on high, wherein companies of religious, both men and women, do their service unto God after the traditions of the Christian faith. Lastly, it is inhabited of five peoples, Romans, to wit, Britons, Saxons, Picts and Scots. Of these the Britons did first settle them therein from sea to sea before the others, until, by reason of their pride, divine vengeance did overtake them, and they yielded them unto the Picts and Saxons. Remaineth now for me to tell from whence they came and in what wise they did land upon our shores, as by way of foretaste of that which shall hereafter be related more at large.

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After the Trojan War, Æneas, fleeing from the desolation of the city, came with Ascanius by ship unto Italy. There, for that Æneas was worshipfully received by King Latinus, Turnus, King of the Rutulians, did wax envious and made war against him. When they met in battle, Æneas had the upper hand, and after that Turnus was slain, obtained the kingdom of Italy and Lavinia the daughter of Latinus.

The birth of Brute

Later, when his own last day had come, Ascanius, now King in his stead, founded Alba on Tiber, and begat a son whose name was Silvius. Silvius, unknown to his father, had fallen in love with and privily taken to wife a certain niece of Lavinia, who was now about to become a mother. When this came to the knowledge of his father Ascanius, he commanded his wizards to discover whether the damsel should be brought to bed of a boy or a girl. When they had made sure of the matter by art magic, they told him that the child would be a boy that should slay his father and his mother, and after much travel in many lands, should, albeit an exile, be exalted unto the highest honours. Nor were the wizards out in their forecast, for when the day came that she should be delivered of a child, the mother bare a son, but herself died in his birth. Howbeit, the child was given in charge unto a nurse, and was named Brute. At last, after thrice five years had gone by, the lad, bearing his father company out a-hunting, slew him by striking him unwittingly with an arrow. For when the verderers drave the deer in front of them, Brute, thinking to take aim at them, smote his own father under the breast. Upon the death of his father he was driven out of Italy, his kinsfolk being wroth with him for having wrought a deed so dreadful. He went therefore as an exile into Greece, and there fell in with the descendants of Helenus, the son of Priam, who at that time were held in bondage under the power of Pandrasus, King of the Greeks.

Brute's youthful prowess

For Pyrrhus, the son of Achilles, after the overthrow of Troy, had led away with him in fetters the foresaid Helenus and a great number of others besides, whom he commanded to be held in bondage by way of revenging upon them his father's death. And when Brute understood that they were of the lineage of his former fellow-citizens, he sojourned amongst them. Howbeit, in such wise did he achieve renown for his knighthood and prowess, that he was beloved by kings and dukes above all the other youths of the country. For among the wise he was as wise as he was valiant among warriors, and whatsoever gold or silver or ornaments he won, he gave it all in largess to his comrades in battle. His fame was thus spread abroad among all nations, and the Trojans flocked unto him from all parts, beseeching him that he should be their King and deliver them front the slavery of the Greeks; the which they declared might easily be done, seeing that they had now so multiplied in the land as that without making count of little ones and women they were already reckoned to be seven thousand. There was, moreover, a certain youth of high nobility in Greece, by name Assaracus, who was no less favourable to their cause. For he was born of a Trojan mother, and he had in them the fullest affiance that by their help he would be able to resist the harassing persecution of the Greeks. For his brother laid claim against him in respect of three castles which his father when dying had conferred upon him, but which the brother was now trying to take away from him because Assaracus had been born of a concubine.

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