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The History of the Kings of Britain (Penguin Classics) Paperback – January 27, 1977

ISBN-13: 978-0140441703 ISBN-10: 0140441700 Edition: 1st

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The History of the Kings of Britain (Penguin Classics) + Arthurian Romances (Penguin Classics) + The Canterbury Tales
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; 1st edition (January 27, 1977)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140441700
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140441703
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.9 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.9 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #26,205 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Very little is known of Geoffrey of Monmouth. He seems to have lived for a time in Oxford and in 1151 he became Bishop Elect of St Asaph, North Wales. He was ordained at Westminster in 1152. According to the Welsh Chronicles he died in 1155. Lewis Thorpe was Professor of French at Nottingham University from 1958 to 1977. He has published many books and articles on Arthur, both on the French and English traditions. He died in 1977.

Customer Reviews

This book is really fun to read.
Nathaniel Grublet
If you have a real interest in the Arthurian legends or in medieval literature in general, you owe it to yourself to read this volume.
J. Angus Macdonald
The richness of its text lies in the careful description of the events, and the accessible style of writing.
Angela Yoong

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

110 of 113 people found the following review helpful By J. Angus Macdonald on July 7, 2003
Format: Paperback
Geoffrey of Monmouth is the man who really started the "King Arthur Craze" of the 12th & 13th centuries. After writing "The History of the Kings of Britain" we have the explosion of works by Chretien de Troyes, Wolfram von Eschenbach, Marie de France, Gottfried von Strassburg, the Vulgate Cycle and all the rest, eventually culminating in the 15th century with Le Morte D'Arthur. No matter what oral tradition may have been in place before this time (the "little book" loaned to Geoffrey?), this is THE book that starts the true interest in The Matter of Britain.
While King Arthur is the centerpiece of the work, this book contains many tales, many of which were later reworked by other authors, most notably Llyr (Lear) and his three daughters.
This book is not a history in the modern sense. "History" derives from "historia", a story, a tale; such "historical" stories were meant, first and foremost, to be moral, didactic lessons on how to (or how NOT to) conduct one's life. Very little in this book could be construed by modern standards to be a "true history"; conversely, here are tales of nobility, gallantry, perfidy, excess, and the like. The characters are exemplars, not real people. The book, starting with the Fall of Troy, leads towards the glory of King Arthur and then falls away from this point, with the slow decline of the Britons in the face of the Anglo-Saxons.
This book is not an easy read by modern standards. On the other hand, it was a medieval "best seller", a book for which there are dozens of manuscripts to sort out (often with slight differences in the text). If you have a real interest in the Arthurian legends or in medieval literature in general, you owe it to yourself to read this volume. While the tales of the Mabinogian may be older, this is the spark-point that introduces Europe to King Arthur.
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46 of 48 people found the following review helpful By Angela Yoong on October 30, 2003
Format: Paperback
In The History of the Kings of Britain, Geoffrey of Monmouth presents a detailed history of the Britons, beginning with Brutus in the twelfth century B.C. and ending with Saxon invasion in the seventh century A.D. Through the main characters of his book, Brutus, Belinus and Arthur, Geoffrey illustrates Britain's glorious past, recalling the events in chronological sequence and providing detailed descriptions of every event, especially those strategic to the building of Britain.
While Geoffrey's source has yet to be proved, in his own introduction, Geoffrey claims to follow a reliable and ancient source given to him by a friend. The lack of evidence to support this claim, coupled with the supernatural elements incorporated into The History of the Kings of Britain, makes it difficult for the modern reader to place complete trust in the text as a historical account of Britain's history. The text is, however, rich in historical value as from his writing, one can deduce much about the political structure of Britain in that time frame, as well as the sociological makeup of the nation. The emphasis on politics, war and international relations, form a rough picture of Britain's power system, and the lengthy stories revolving around his characters give the reader insight on the lives of the British nobility.
The History of the Kings of Britain deserves as much credit (if not more) for its literary value as its historical one. While Geoffrey considers himself a historian, his artistic talents, fluency and extensive use of vocabulary bring his accounts to life, turning the text into an enjoyable literary piece. Especially in key passages (in particular those concerning Arthur), Geoffrey makes very fine and detailed points, often narrating livelily.
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34 of 36 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 20, 2000
Format: Paperback
Geoffrey of Monmouth's History traces the kingship of Britain from its mythical origins after the fall of Troy to the beginning of Saxon rule. According to Geoffrey, the Britons are descended from Brutus, refugee from Troy and the grandson of Aeneas, the founder of Rome. Most of his history centers around Brutus, Belinus and Arthur, three fictional kings who got the better of Rome and the rest of Europe, either in battle or by duplicity.
Geoffrey also provides the earliest surviving stories of Arthur and Merlin. Geoffrey apparently admired bloody conquest (as long as the conquerors were Britons) and his Arthur is the bloodiest of all. In this first version of the Arthur story there is no Lancelot or Morgan le Fey, no Grail and no Camelot. But Geoffrey inserts a lengthy chapter containing the prophecies of Merlin, and a few magical episodes as well, such as the story of Arthur's conception.
The style is the terse and elegant, but lacks the deeper moral sense of some other medieval literature and later Arthurian tales. Arthur's justifications of conquest are shallow at best. Sometimes the austere style leaves your mouth watering for more detail. Try this single sentence description of an entire reign: "In his reign the sky rained blood for three days and many Britons died from the massings of flies." Fascinating. Tell me more! But he doesn't. Still definitely worth reading.
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42 of 47 people found the following review helpful By Ashley LeMay (leeash@supernews.com) on August 6, 1998
Format: Paperback
The original source of Shakespeare's King Lear and one of the first books to tell the story of the births and lives of both King Arthur and Merlin. "The History of the Kings of Britain" was believe to be a real history book for many years but is now quite obviously a collection of tall tales. But even if most of the book is myth this is an important book in for anyone interested in British history for it often quoted in other early British writings. "The History of the Kings of Britain" was probably one of the most important books in Britain up until Shakespeare's day.
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