History of the Kings

Reference: Peniarth MS 23C

Peniarth MS 23 is one of only a handful of medieval Welsh manuscripts to have been illustrated, and is probably the only Welsh-language medieval narrative text accompanied by illustrations. It contains one of the most significant works of the medieval period, translated into Welsh.

Contents

The text is that of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s highly influential Historia Regum Britanniae (‘History of the Kings of Britain’), translated into Welsh as ‘Brut y Brenhinedd’ (‘History of the Kings’) (ff. 1-106v). The Latin Historia, written c. 1135, traced the descent of the Britons back to Brutus, the eponymous founder of Britain, who settled on the island with his followers after the fall of Troy. It provided the first full biographical account of king Arthur, and was extremely popular and influential in Wales. The Welsh text appeared in the 13th century, and survives in over 60 manuscripts. This copy is associated with, and perhaps partially derived from, Peniarth 21, which dates from the early 14th century.

Illustrations

Unusually for a Welsh narrative manuscript, some 59 rather crude illustrations were added to the text. They include 57 representations of kings, including Eneas and Brutus of Troy (ff. 1r, 10r), Arthur (f. 75v), and Cadwaladr the Blessed (f. 104v), together with scenes of the Nativity of Christ (f. 36v) and the Crucifixion (f. 38r). The scribe, or a separate illuminator, has also decorated some letters with animal and human heads.

The Manuscript

The manuscript was written on parchment by one scribe, probably in North Wales, before the end of the 15th century. The presence of illustrations suggests that it was commissioned for a lay patron, but alas, the potential valuable evidence of the scribe’s colophon on f. 106v is illegible due to a thick coating of gall. Marginal notes, with some personal names, were added to the manuscript during the 16th century, before it became part of Robert Vaughan’s collection at Hengwrt, Merioneth. It was possibly at Hengwrt, during the second half of the 18th century, that the top outside corners of the leaves were nibbled by rodents. The volume was bound anew at the National Library during the first half of the 20th century.

Bibliography

  • Acton Griscom and Robert Ellis Jones (eds.), The Historia Regum Britanniæ of Geoffrey of Monmouth with contributions to the study of its place in early British history (London, 1929).
  • John Jay Parry (ed.), Brut y Brehinedd: Cotton Cleopatra Version (Cambridge, Mass., 1937).
  • Brynley F. Roberts (ed.), Brut y Brenhinedd: Llanstephan MS. 1 Version (Dublin, 1971).
  • Brynley F. Roberts, ‘Geoffrey of Monmouth, Histora Regum Britanniae and Brut y Brenhinedd’, in Rachel Bromwich, A.O.H. Jarman and Brynley F. Roberts (eds.), The Arthur of the Welsh. The Arthurian Legend in Medieval Welsh Literature (Cardiff, 1991), 97-116.

Was this page useful?