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Gervase of Tilbury


Author of a medieval book of universal knowledge; b. probably Tilbury, Essex, England, c. 1140; d. probably England, c. 1220. He studied and briefly taught law at the University of Bologna; in 1177 he was an eyewitness to the peace talks between Emperor frederick i barba rossa and Pope alexander iii. Shortly afterward he seems to have returned to England, where he had high connections at court and where he attached himself to King henry ii's son, Henry (d. 1183), for whom he wrote the now-lost Liber facetiarum. Gervase next entered the service of King William II of Sicily (d. 1189), the son-inlaw of Henry II, and it is known that he was in Salerno during the siege of Acre (119091). Subsequently, through his various English connections, he was taken into the service of Emperor otto iv, the grandson of Henry II. Otto made Gervase marshal of the kingdom of arles, and there he seems to have married. In 1209 he accompanied Otto IV to Rome for his imperial coronation, and in 1211, when Otto was excommunicated by Pope innocent iii, Gervase was already writing his famous Otia imperialia for Otto. He finished the work in 1214, the year the emperor met disastrous defeat at Bouvines, which forced him to retire to his own principality of Brunswick, while Gervase seems to have returned to England. The Otia imperialia, a book written for the instruction and entertainment of the monarch, was divided into three sections. The first, in 24 chapters, beginning with the creation of the world, includes a physical description of the earth and traces world history up to the Flood. The second section, in 36 chapters, begins with Noe and his sons and the division of the world into Asia, Europe, Africa, etc., and describes certain areas in detail, especially the regions of western Europe, listing and discussing various lines of kings. Section three, in 119 chapters, is quite eclectic, treating of such diverse topics as stones, trees, animals, serpents, the British Sea, Christ's cross, Thomas the Apostle, and water that becomes salt. The Otia is of special interest because of the insight it gives into the mental equipment of a man whom contemporary society held to be well educated, and because of its moderate stand in discussing the proper relationship of pope and emperor.

Bibliography: Otia imperialia, ed. g. w. leibniz, in his Scriptores rerum Brunsvicensium, 3 v. (Hanover 170711) 1:8841004; 2:751784; complete third section, ed. f. liebrecht (Hanover 1856); selections, Monumenta Germaniae Historica: Scriptores 27:359394. w. hunt, The Dictionary of National Biography from the Earliest Times to 1900 7:112021. j. r. caldwell, "The Autograph MS of G. of T.," Scriptorium 11 (1957) 8798; "MSS of G. of T.'s Otia imperialia, " ibid. 16 (1962) 2845; "The Interrelationship of the MSS of G. of T.'s Otia imperialia, " ibid. 246274; "G. of T.'s Addenda to his Otia imperialia, " Medieval Studies 24 (1962) 95126. k. schnith, "Otto IV und Gervasius von Tilbury: Gedanken zu den Otia imperialia, " Historiches Jahrbuch der Gö-Gesellschaft 82 (1963) 5069.

[m. j. hamilton]

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