Ordericus Vitalis

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Benedictine, the leading historian of France in the 12th century; b. Attingham, England, Feb. 16, 1075; d. Saint-Evroult, Normandy, Feb. 3, 1142. In 1085 he became an oblate in the abbey of saint-evroult-d'ouche in Normandy, where he received an excellent liberal education under John of Reims. He was ordained in 1108. In 1109 he adapted and enlarged the Gesta Normannorum ducum of William of Jumièges. In 1123, at the request of his abbot, Roger du Sap, he began his most important work, the Historia ecclesiastica in 13 books, completed in 1141. An especially important source for the period from 1125 to 1140, the Historia was originally planned as a history of his monastery. It soon grew into a universal history of the period, treating of persons and trends in the history of the Church; giving lists of popes, abbots, and rectors of churches; and recounting the history of the normans in England, Southern Italy, Normandy, and the crusader states. As an enthusiastic chronicler of the crusades, Ordericus represents the best tradition of monastic historiography, interested in events both religious and profane. Ordericus, little known in the Middle Ages, is appreciated today for his broad interest and accuracy in detail. His principal sources, carefully noted by him, were mainly oral. Among his informants were those who happened through the monastic guest-house: clerics, monks, pilgrims, knights, jongleurs, and merchants. Among earlier historians known to Ordericus were Pompeius Trogus, gregory of tours, and bede. He also consulted monastic archives and the contemporary chronicles of Dudo of Saint-Quentin, William of Jumièges, and fulcher of chartres.

Bibliography: Editions. Historia ecclesiastica, ed. a. le prÉvost, 5 v. (Paris 183855); Patrologia Latina 188; The Ecclesiastical History of England and Normandy, tr. t. forester, 4 v. (London 185356). Literature. Geschichte der lateinischen Literatur des Mittelalters 3:441448, 522528. h. wolter, Ordericus Vitalis: Ein Beitrag zur kluniazensischen Geschichtsschreibung (Wiesbaden 1955).

[b. lacroix]

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Orderic Vitalis (1075–c.1142), the great historian of the Normans, was born near Shrewsbury of mixed English and French parentage, but from 1085 lived his entire life at the abbey of Saint-Evroult in southern Normandy. His greatest historical work, the massive Ecclesiastical History, was composed from 1123 onwards and came to include material on many of the major events of his lifetime, most notably the expansion of Norman power throughout Europe and the Norman Conquest of England. Orderic's historical writing derives its importance from his insatiable curiosity and powers of observation; the vast array of information he assembled is invaluable for our understanding of the social history and religious life of his times. He continued the history up almost to the moment of his death and concluded it with a deeply moving autobiographical epilogue.

David Richard Bates