Orderic Vitalis

Orderic Vitalis
Modern plaque commemorating Orderic Vitalis at the Abbey of Saint-Evroul, Normandy
BornOrderic
16 February 1075
Atcham, Salop,  Kingdom of England
Diedc. 1142 (aged c. 67)
Ouche Abbey, Duchy of Normandy
NationalityEnglish, Norman
Other namesOrdericus Vitalis
Occupation(s)Oblate (1085–1090)
Monk (beginning 1090)
Subdeacon (1091–1093)
Deacon (1093–1107)
Priest (beginning 1107)
Chronicler
Notable workHistoria ecclesiastica (Orderic Vitalis)
Parent
  • Odelerius of Orléans (father)
Personal
ReligionCatholic
TeachersSiward
Jean of Reims
Monastic nameVitalis
Organization
OrderBenedictine

Orderic Vitalis (Latin: Ordericus Vitalis; 16 February 1075 – c. 1142) was an English chronicler and Benedictine monk who wrote one of the great contemporary chronicles of 11th- and 12th-century Normandy and Anglo-Norman England. Working out of the Abbey of Saint-Evroul, he is credited with writing the Historia Ecclesiatica, a work detailing the history of Europe and the Mediterranean from the birth of Jesus Christ into his own age. The son of a cleric, he was of born into a noble family, claiming both English and Norman heritage. While he is known primarily for the Historia Ecclesiastica, he also was able to ascend to various positions within the church including that script master, librarian, and cantor. A prolific writer, he spoke on various topics in his writings both religious and secular. Modern historians view him as a reliable source.

Early life

Orderic was born on 16 February 1075 in Atcham, Shropshire, England, the eldest son of a French priest, Odelerius of Orléans. He was followed by his two younger brothers Benedict and Everard. Odelerius had entered the service of Roger de Montgomery, 1st Earl of Shrewsbury, and had received from his patron a chapel there in 1082.

Clerical marriage during the 11th century was slowly being restricted throughout Europe and resistance officials in Rouen faced from the clerical community in 1072 caused the Archbishop of Canterbury to take a more cautious approach. This led to a policy announced in 1076 by the Council of Winchester wherein clerics who were already married were allowed to keep their wives while forbidding marriage for future clerics. As a result, Odelerius was able to retain his family. Orderic was one of the few monks who were of mixed parentage as his mother was of English heritage. Although the exact identity of his mother is unknown, it is known that she was English and Orderic adopted this heritage into his identity. Despite this, historians such as Marjorie Chibnall have noted his animosity towards his mother through her omission in his writings whereas he admired his father in his writings.

When Orderic was five, his parents sent him to an English monk, Siward by name, who kept a school in the Abbey of SS Peter and Paul at Shrewsbury. Orderic received from Siward a basic education in reading and writing as well as the histories of the English people. At the age of ten, Orderic was entrusted as an oblate to the Abbey of Saint-Evroul in the Duchy of Normandy, which Montgomery had formerly despoiled but, in his later years, was loading with gifts. The parents paid thirty marks for their son's admission; he expresses the conviction that they imposed this exile upon him from an earnest desire for his welfare. Odelerius's respect for the monastic life is attested to by his own entry, a few years later, into a monastery which the earl had founded at his persuasion. Orderic, on the other hand, felt for some time, as he asserts, like Joseph in a strange land. He did not know a word of French when he reached Normandy. His book, though written many years later, shows that he never lost his English cast of mind or his attachment to the country of his birth.

Monastic life

When Orderic reached the legal age for profession as a monk, his monastic superiors gave him the religious name of "Vitalis" (after a member of the legendary Theban Legion of Christian martyrs) because they found it difficult to pronounce his English baptismal name of Orderic, a name he says was the same as the priest who baptised him. In the title of his great chronicle, he prefixes the old to the new name and proudly adds the epithet Angligena ("English-born").

Orderic became a deacon in 1093, and a priest in 1107. He left his cloister on several occasions, speaking of having visited Croyland, Worcester, Cambrai (1105) and Cluny Abbey (1132). He turned his attention at an early date to literature, and for many years appears to have spent his summers in the scriptorium. Eventually Orderic earned the position of master scribe, copying numerous works while also overseeing and working with other scribes at the monastery. According to Charles Rozier, Orderic also served as librarian and cantor for the abbey. As librarian he catalogued the large collection of works at Saint-Evroul's library and provided edits to some of the works himself. His role as cantor included overseeing daily liturgy and duties of officials during mass at the abbey.

Orderic's first literary efforts were a continuation and revision of William of Jumièges' Gesta normannorum ducum, a broad history of the Normans and their dukes from the founding of Normandy, which Orderic carried forward into the early twelfth century. He also added information about earlier periods from other sources, for example William of Poitiers' Gesta Guillelmi, and included information not found elsewhere. As Orderic used Norman sources but wrote from an English perspective, his account of the Norman Conquest is balanced, he is sympathetic to both sides. This attitude persists in his Historia Ecclesiastica.

At some time between 1110 and 1115, Orderic's superiors ordered him to write the history of Saint-Evroul. The work, the Historia Ecclesiastica (Ecclesiastical History), grew under his hands until it became a general history of his own age. Saint-Evroul was a house of wealth and distinction. War-worn knights chose it as a resting place for their last years. It was constantly entertaining visitors from southern Italy, where it had established new foundations, and from England, where it had extensive possessions. Thus Orderic, though he witnessed no great events, was well-informed about them. Orderic is a vivid narrator; his character sketches are admirable as summaries of current estimates. His narrative is full of digressions that surprise readers who are looking for a strictly chronological ordering of events, but it has been argued that the digressions reflect Orderic's sense of the connections between events (between the foundation of Saint-Evroul and the Norman Conquest of Southern Italy, for example) and his desire to include as much of this monastic colleagues' memories in his History as possible. It would thus be a truly collective work. Orderic relays much invaluable information not provided by more methodical chroniclers. He throws a flood of light upon the manners and ideas of his own age, and he sometimes comments with shrewdness upon the broader aspects and tendencies of history. His narrative breaks off in the middle of 1141, though he added some finishing touches in 1142. He reports that he was then old and infirm (that year he would have reached the age of 67 years); he probably did not long survive the completion of his great work.

The Historia Ecclesiastica

The Historia Ecclesiastica, described as the greatest English social history of the Middle Ages, falls into three sections:

  1. Books i and ii give the history of Christianity from the birth of Christ. After 855 this becomes a bare catalogue of popes, ending with the name of Innocent I. These books Orderic added in 1136–1141 as an afterthought to the original scheme.
  1. Books iii through vi form a history of Saint-Evroul, the original nucleus of the work. Planned before 1122, they were mainly composed in the years 1123–1131. The fourth and fifth books contain long digressions on the deeds of William the Conqueror in Normandy and England. Before 1067 these are chiefly derived from two extant sources: William of Jumieges' Gesta Normannorum Ducum and William of Poitiers' Gesta Guillelmi. For the years 1067–1071 Orderic follows the lost portion of the Gesta Guillelmi, and is therefore of the first importance. From 1071, he begins to be an independent authority. Notices of political events in this part of his work are far less copious than in the later books.
  1. Books vii through xiii relegate ecclesiastical affairs to the background. In this section, after sketching the history of France under the Carolingian and early Capet dynasties, Orderic takes up the events of his own times, starting from about 1082. He has much to say concerning the Empire, the papacy, the Normans in Sicily and Apulia and the First Crusade (for which he follows Fulcher of Chartres and Baudri of Bourgueil, but with notable alterations). But his chief interest is in the histories of the three brothers: Robert Curthose, Duke of Normandy, William Rufus and Henry I of England. He continues his work, in the form of annals, up to the defeat and capture of Stephen of England at Lincoln in 1141.

The historian Marjorie Chibnall states that Orderic used now-lost pancartes (cartularies or collections of charters) of various Norman monastic houses as sources for his historical writings.

Orderic addressed both contemporaries and future generations, intending for his work to be studied by monks and novices learning about the history of the monastery and its benefactors. The work as a whole was not widely read in the Middle Ages, though individual parts of it were popular and circulated.

The Historia Ecclesiastica is usually cited by abbreviation of the author's name rather than the title; that is, either as Ord. Vitalis or Ord. Vit. followed by volume and page numbers.

Secular commentary

Throughout his writings, Orderic spoke on a great deal of secular topics ranging from the violence of Norman conquest, the right to rule and inheritance, the strength of government, the make up of various courts and their military structure. Most of these writings were produced during the reign of King Henry I. Much of Orderic's intended audience included knights and nobility who would have had a vested interest in these topics. Knights that frequented the Abbey of Saint-Evroul often were waiting for their inheritance to come about or others who hoped to increase their standing through their service to a household. This would explain why we see the subject of inheritance and right to rule in his works. Orderic echoed the reasoning of William's conquest while still taking issue with several aspects of the conquest. Specifically, he spoke on the acquisitions of English lands by Norman lords, describing the acquisitions as plunder. On the subject of plunder, Orderic stands out amongst his peers for his critique of Bohemond I of Antioch whom he believed to have used the mission of the crusades as an excuse to gain power for himself. He also spoke on the role of clerics in the battlefield. He emphasized his reasoning for only contributing to violence on behalf of the king, laymen, or other clerics.

Orderic's thoughts on marriage permeated into his writing, probably from the experience he had with his father's clerical marriage and the absence of his mother. One example of his marriage views come from the arrangement of Bertrade of Montfort. When her uncle, William, Count of Éverux, arranged for Bertrade to marry Fulk of Anjou, Orderic wrote disparagingly of Fulk's character in recognition of how she was being used for the sake of power. When Bertrade eloped with the already married King Philip I of France, he changed his tone and admonished them all, describing Bertrade as a concubine and Fulk and Philip I both as adulterers.

Notes

  1. ^ a b Hollister Henry I p. 6
  2. ^ Rozier, Charles C., Daniel Roach, Giles E.M. Gasper, and Elisabeth van Houts, eds. Orderic Vitalis: Life, Works and Interpretations (Woodbridge, UK: Boydell Press, 2016), 20.
  3. ^ a b Rozier, Charles C., Daniel Roach, Giles E.M. Gasper, and Elisabeth van Houts, eds. Orderic Vitalis: Life, Works and Interpretations (Woodbridge, UK: Boydell Press, 2016), 57.
  4. ^ Chibnall, Marjorie, The World of Orderic Vitalis (Woodbridge, UK: Boydell Press, 1984), 9.
  5. ^ Chibnall, Marjorie; Vitalis, Orderic (1969–1980). The Ecclesiastical History of Orderic Vitalis, vol.1. Oxford: Clarendon Press. p. 2.
  6. ^ Chibnall, Marjorie, The World of Orderic Vitalis (Woodbridge, UK: Boydell Press, 1984), 11.
  7. ^ Chibnall, Marjorie; Vitalis, Orderic (1969–1980). The Ecclesiastical History of Orderic Vitalis, vol.i. Oxford: Clarendon Press. p. 6.
  8. ^ a b c d e Davis 1911.
  9. ^ Chibnall, Marjorie; Vitalis, Orderic (1969–1980). The Ecclesiastical History of Orderic Vitalis. Vol. III. Oxford: Clarendon Press. p. 6.
  10. ^ Chibnall, Marjorie; Vitalis, Orderic (1969–1980). The Ecclesiastical History of Orderic Vitalis, vol.i. Oxford: Clarendon Press. p. 24.
  11. ^ Rozier, Charles C., Daniel Roach, Giles E.M. Gasper, and Elisabeth van Houts, eds. Orderic Vitalis: Life, Works and Interpretations (Woodbridge, UK: Boydell Press, 2016), 66-67.
  12. ^ Van Houts, Elisabeth; William of Jumièges; Vitalis, Orderic; Robert of Torigni (May 1992). The Gesta Normannorum Ducum of William of Jumièges, Orderic Vitalis and Robert of Torigni, vol.i. Oxford: Clarendon Press. pp. lxix, lxxiv.
  13. ^ Dates from Hollister Henry I p. 5
  14. ^ O'Donnell, "Meanders," pp. 298–301
  15. ^ Hollister Henry I p. 5
  16. ^ Roach, Daniel (2016). "Orderic Vitalis and the First Crusade". Journal of Medieval History. 42 (2): 177–201. doi:10.1080/03044181.2016.1140673. S2CID 159950014.
  17. ^ Chibnall "Charter and Chronicle" Church and Government pp. 12–13
  18. ^ Chibnall, Marjorie; Vitalis, Orderic (1969–1980). The Ecclesiastical History of Orderic Vitalis, vol.i. Oxford: Clarendon Press. pp. 35, 39.
  19. ^ Chibnall, Marjorie; Vitalis, Orderic (1969–1980). The Ecclesiastical History of Orderic Vitalis, vol.i. Oxford: Clarendon Press. p. 113.
  20. ^ Chibnall, Marjorie, The World of Orderic Vitalis (Woodbridge, UK: Boydell Press, 1984), 118-127.
  21. ^ a b Chibnall, Marjorie, The World of Orderic Vitalis (Woodbridge, UK: Boydell Press, 1984), 123.
  22. ^ Nakashian, Craig M, “Orderic Vitalis and Henry of Huntingdon: Views of Clerical Warfare from Inside and Outside the Cloister,” In Between Sword and Prayer: Warfare and Medieval Clergy in Cultural Perspective, ed. Radoslaw Kotecki, Jacek Maciejewski, and John S. Ott. Leiden (NL: Brill, 2018), 162-163.
  23. ^ Chibnall, Marjorie, The World of Orderic Vitalis (Woodbridge, UK: Boydell Press, 1984), 126.
  24. ^ Chibnall, Marjorie, The World of Orderic Vitalis (Woodbridge, UK: Boydell Press, 1984), 127.
  25. ^ Nakashian, Craig M, “Orderic Vitalis and Henry of Huntingdon: Views of Clerical Warfare from Inside and Outside the Cloister,” In Between Sword and Prayer: Warfare and Medieval Clergy in Cultural Perspective, ed. Radoslaw Kotecki, Jacek Maciejewski, and John S. Ott. Leiden (NL: Brill, 2018), 163.
  26. ^ a b Chibnall, Marjorie, The World of Orderic Vitalis (Woodbridge, UK: Boydell Press, 1984), 129.

Sources

Further reading

External links

Wikisource has original text related to this article: Bricstan Wikisource has the text of the 1885–1900 Dictionary of National Biography's article about Ordericus Vitalis.