Geoffrey of Monmouth

Geoffrey of Monmouth (also known by Galfridus Arturus, Galfridus Monemutensis, Gruffudd ap Arthur, and Sieffre o Fynwy) is one of the earliest architects of Arthurian lore. While stories of King Arthur and his knights existed for centuries before him, he is credited with recording and influencing how the earliest tales would be recounted for centuries.

Life and Times

Little is known for certain about Geoffrey of Monmouth. He was born sometime between the years of 1090 and and 1100 CE. His name, which he refers to himself as in his Historia, denotes that he has ties to Monmouth, Wales, but there is little evidence to suggest that he was Welsh. There is more evidence to suggest that he was at least ethnically Breton, as Monmouth was ruled by Breton lords during his lifetime. He might have served as a cleric in the Benedictine Monmouth Priory at some point, but he spent most of his life north of Wales, particularly the Oxford area. On February 24, 1152 CE, he was consecrated as Bishop of St. Asaph at Lambeth. He never visited Lambeth, however, and two or three years later he passed away.

Literary Contributions

His most well known written work is called the Historia regum Britanniae, or The History of the Kings of Britain. Geoffrey insisted that the multi-volume behemoth was a translation of an older historical text. It was published sometime between 1135 and 1139 CE, and was considered a reliable historical source well into the 16th century. Many historians now agree that the Historia was based on a variety of texts and Welsh oral traditions that were mostly about local lore, embellished further with his own imagination. There are historical figures and references, but the stories told about them are highly inaccurate. Thus its value is as a literary text, one that influenced many great works to come, including William Shakespeare's King Lear.
  The second half of the Historia begins by iterating most of one of Geoffrey's earlier and shorter works, the Prophetiae Merlini, or the Prophecies of Merlin. This serves as a transition to tell the story of the kings Aurelius Ambrosius, Uther Pendragon, and Arthur Pendragon, all three of whom were served by Merlin in their quest to defeat the Saxons and unify Britain under one rule.
  Later, around 1150 CE, Geoffrey is credited with writing Vita Merlini, or The Life of Merlin. This epic poem details the life, madness, and prophesies of the wizard Merlin in further detail. His influences include folklore and cultural traditions from Welsh and Celtic tribes of the past.
Statue of Geoffrey of Monmouth at Old Station Tintern in Monmouthshire

General Facts


Sometime between 1090 and 1100, possibly in Monmouth, Wales  


Sometime between December 25, 1154 and December 24, 1155 CE, at around 50-60 years of age  


Great Britain  


Catholic cleric, writer, and (liberally creative) historian

Important Contributions

Books and Poems:

  • Historia Regum Britanniae
  • Prophetiae Merlini
  • Vita Merlini

Cover image: Page 12r of the Winchester Manuscript by The British Library


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