Henry of Huntingdon, Historia Anglorum

firebeastThe preface to the Historia Anglorum tells us that it was written at the direction of Alexander ‘the Magnificent’, bishop of Lincoln (1123–48), and it must therefore have been begun after April 1123. Alexander commissioned Henry to ‘narrate the history of this kingdom and the origins of our people’. It was to be a history of the English people. As Henry explains in his preface, it was intended to be a convenient work in a single volume, drawn from earlier materials which had for that reason to be heavily abbreviated. Much of the narrative of the pre-Conquest period is indeed drawn from earlier works, above all Bede’s Historia ecclesiastica and the Anglo- Saxon Chronicle. The text is not, however, lacking in rhetorical artifice. Some passages are invented, and it is organised around the idea that the five invasions of Britain—by the Romans, the Picts and Scots, the Angles and Saxons, the Danes and the Normans—represent the five punishments which God has inflicted on the island’s peoples because of their sinfulness. Henry heightens the drama at key moments, introducing invented speeches into the mouths of Julius Caesar and of William the Conqueror and into his accounts of the battles of the Standard and of Lincoln. The narrative is dignified, especially in books vii and x, by allusions to classical poetry and by the inclusion of poems, most of them composed by Henry himself.

The greater part of the work, comprising the first seven books, was completed around October 1131 (the date of the latest event which it records), but Henry added three more books to the text during the next decade, one of which (book nine) is a tract about the miracles of England's saints. He also began a tenth book, covering the reign of King Stephen. As first conceived this book extended as far as 1138, but the book was extended as the reign unfolded and, in its final form, it concludes with the coronation of Henry II in 1154. He also went back and revised the earlier books during these decades. Thus, there survive among the thirty or so manuscripts now extant, as Diana Greenway has shown, some six different versions of the text. They correspond to copies taken in c.1133 (versions 1 and 2), c.1140 (version 3), c.1147 (version 4), c.1149 (version 5) and c.1155 (version 6). The Historia was much used by other authors.

Sample Manuscript: Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, MS 280. This copy of the Historia Anglorum was written by two English scribes in the second half of the twelfth-century: hand one writes folios 6r–195v23 (as far as 1138, and the words effectus est), hand two folios 195v24–209v4. Hand one used the third version of the text. Hand two, who was adding material for 1138–1154, used version six. Thomas Arnold, the editor of the edition in the Rolls Series, suggested that this copy belonged to St Augustine’s Abbey, Canterbury, but it lacks an ex libris inscription and M. R. James, who catalogued the Corpus manuscripts, could not identify it in the St Augustine’s library catalogue—a text which he had previously edited. It was given to Corpus Christi College by Matthew Parker, archbishop of Canterbury (1559–75).

Other Online Images: The British Library Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts offers access to images from several manuscripts of the Historia Anglorum in its collections, including two images from (1) Egerton MS 3668 (an early, pocket-book size, manuscript of the Historia Anglorum which shows signs of study, correction and cross collation), and nine images from (2) Arundel MS 48 (a manuscript written in the late twelfth century which includes a remarkable picture of Stephen at the Battle of Lincoln). The British Library’s Online Gallery adds four images from (3) Additional MS 24061, an early fourteenth-century copy. The British Library has also digitised all of London, British Library, Cotton MS Domitian A.VIII, fols. 111r–119v, a free-standing copy of Henry’s De contemptu mundi, one of the three semi-independent texts that comprise book eight of the Historia Anglorum.

Text and Translation: Henry of Huntingdon, Historia Anglorum (The History of the English People), ed. D. E. Greenway, Oxford Medieval Texts (Oxford, 1996). MVC. With an excellent introduction and notes. Corpus 280 is discussed on pages cxxv–cxxvi. See also plate four.


  • Barker-Benfield, B. C. (ed.), Corpus of British Medieval Library Catalogues, vol. 13, St Augustine’s Abbey, Canterbury, 3 pts. (London, 2008), 1823 [ZVRea2].
  • Black, W., ‘Henry of Huntingdon’s Lapidary Rediscovered and his Anglicanus ortus Reassembled’, Mediaeval Studies, 68 (2006), 43–87. Academic Search Complete.
  • Fenton, K. A., ‘Writing Masculinity and Religious Identity in Henry of Huntingdon’, in P. H. Cullum and K. J. Lewis (eds), Religious Men and Masculine Identity in the Middle Ages, Gender in the Middle Ages 9 (Woodbridge, 2013), pp. 64–76.
  • Gillingham, J., ‘Henry of Huntingdon and the Twelfth Century Revival of the English Nation’, in S. Forde, J. Johnson and A. Murray (eds), Concepts of National Identity in the Middle Ages, Leeds Texts and Monographs (Leeds, 1995), pp. 75–101 [MBS]; rpt in his, The English in the Twelfth Century: Imperialism, National Identity, and Political Values (Woodbridge, 2000), pp. 123–44. Available at EBSCO and in the library at MVE.
  • Gillingham, J., ‘Henry of Huntingdon: In his Time (1135) and Place (between Lincoln and the Royal Court)’, in K. Stopka (ed.), Gallus Anonymous and his Chronicle in the Context of Twelfth-Century Historiography from the Perspective of the Latest Research (Kraków, 2010), pp. 157–72.
  • Greenway, D. E., ‘Henry of Huntingdon and Bede’, in J.-P. Genet (ed.), L’Historiographie médiévale en Europe (Paris, 1991), pp. 43–50.
  • Greenway, D. E., ‘Henry of Huntingdon and the manuscripts of his Historia Anglorum’, Anglo-Norman Studies, 10 (1987), 103–26. MVE7.
  • Greenway, D. E., ‘Authority, Convention and Observation in Henry of Huntingdon’s Historia Anglorum’, Anglo-Norman Studies, 18 (1996), 105–21. An important study of Henry’s attitudes towards historical truth.
  • Henry of Huntingdon, Anglicanus Ortus: A Verse Herbal of the Twelfth Century, ed. W. Black, British Writers of the Middle Ages and the Early Modern Period 3; Studies and Texts 180 (Oxford, 2012). A crucial contribution.
  • Partner, N. F., ‘Henry of Huntingdon: Clerical Celibacy and the Writing of History’, Church History, 42 (1973), 467–75. Available from JSTOR.
  • Partner, N. F., Serious Entertainments: The Writing of History in Twelfth-Century England (Chicago and London, 1977). L43ea.
  • Rigg, A. G., ‘Henry of Huntingdon’s Herbal’, Mediaeval Studies, 65 (2003), 213–92. Academic Search Complete. Journals Y6. Another work by the author.
  • Rigg, A. G., ‘Henry of Huntingdon’s Metrical Experiments’, Journal of Medieval Latin, 1 (1991), 60–72.
  • Stirnemann, P. D., ‘Two Twelfth-Century Bibliophiles and Henry of Huntingdon’s Historia Anglorum’, Viator, 24 (1993), 121–42.

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