Ordericus, Vitalus

Ordericus, Vitalus a noted mediaeval English ecclesiastical historian, was born at Attingesham, now Atcham, near Shrewsbury, in 1075. His parents were of Norman descent, and belonged to the nobility. But few particulars are extant regarding the life of Ordericus. From incidental notes in his own writings it appears that he was sent to France in his infancy, and there placed under monastic instruction. His first French home was in the abbey of Ouche, at Lisieux, in Normandy. In 1086 he received the tonsure, and changed his English name of Ordericus for that of Vitalis, using only the latter name himself; but custom has joined the two in writing of him. He devoted himself to study, and did not take priest's orders till 1107. He never quit the convent but three times: he once attended a chapter of the order; once went to England, visiting Worcester and Croyland; and once went to Cambray-the last two visits being apparently for the purpose of procuring materials for his work, Historia Ecclesiastica. This history, which consists of thirteen volumes, is brought down to 1141, in which year, or the succeeding one, it is most probable that Ordericus Vitalis died. The Ecclesiastical History begins with the birth of Christ, and gives in two books a rapid summary, not always correct, of the succession of the Roman emperors and popes. These two books were an after-thought, and are of no great value. It is with the third book that the interest of the work commences. The early history of the dukedom of Normandy, with the collateral relations of France and Brittany, are given in minute detail. Then follows the narrative of the conquest of England. But by far the most valuable portion of the work is the last half of it, treating of the events of which Ordericus was a contemporary observer. The first edition of the Historia Ecclesiastica. was published by Duchesne, in his Hist. Norm. Script. Antiq. (Paris, 1619, fol.). It has also been printed by the French Historical Society (1840, 2 vols.), and was translated into French by Dubois (1825-27,4 vols.). An English translation was prepared and brought out by Forester in Bohn's Antiquarian Library (Lond. 1853-54, 4 vols. 12mo). To the French edition of 1825-27 M. Guizot wrote an introduction, in which he says of the work: "No book contains so much and such valuable information on the history of the 11th and 12th centuries; on the political state, both civil and religious, on society in the west of Europe; and on the manners of the times, whether feudal, monastic, or popular." See Piper, Monumental-Theologie, § 114; Wright, Biog. Lit. (A.N. Period) p. 111 sq.; Allibone, Dict. of Brit. and Amer. Authors, s.v.; Lappenberg, Gesch. von England, 2:378-393; Cave, Hist. Lit. 2:220; Oudin, Comment. de Script. Eccles. 2:209; and the sketches prefaced to the different editions of his works.

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