1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Benedictus Abbas

17304941911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 3 — Benedictus AbbasHenry William Carless Davis

BENEDICTUS ABBAS (d. 1194), abbot of Peterborough, whose name is accidentally connected with the Gesta Henrici Regis Secundi, one of the most valuable of English 12th-century chronicles. He first makes his appearance in 1174, as the chancellor of Archbishop Richard, the successor of Becket in the primacy. In 1175 Benedictus became prior of Holy Trinity, Canterbury; in 1177 he received from Henry II. the abbacy of Peterborough, which he held until his death. As abbot he distinguished himself by his activity in building, in administering the finances of his house and in collecting a library. He is described in the Chronicon Petroburgense as “blessed both in name and deed.” He belonged to the circle of Becket’s admirers, and wrote two works dealing with the martyrdom and the miracles of his hero. Fragments of the former work have come down to us in the compilation known as the Quadrilogus, which is printed in the fourth volume of J. C. Robertson’s Materials for the History of Thomas Becket (Rolls series); the miracles are extant in their entirety, and are printed in the second volume of the same collection. Benedictus has been credited with the authorship of the Gesta Henrici on the ground that his name appears in the title of the oldest manuscript. We have, however, conclusive evidence that Benedictus merely caused this work to be transcribed for the Peterborough library. It is only through the force of custom that the work is still occasionally cited under the name of Benedictus. The question of authorship has been discussed by Sir T. D. Hardy, Bishop Stubbs and Professor Liebermann; but the results of the discussion are negative. Stubbs conjecturally identified the first part of the Gesta (1170–1177) with the Liber Tricolumnis, a register of contemporary events kept by Richard Fitz Neal (q.v.), the treasurer of Henry II. and author of the Dialogus de Scaccario; the latter part (1177–1192) was by the same authority ascribed to Roger of Hoveden, who makes large use of the Gesta in his own chronicle, copying them with few alterations beyond the addition of some documents. This theory, so far as concerns the Liber Tricolumnis, is rejected by Liebermann and the most recent editors of the Dialogus (A. Hughes, C. G. Crump and C. Johnson, Oxford, 1902). We can only say that the Gesta are the work of a well-informed contemporary who appears to have been closely connected with the court and is inclined on all occasions to take the side of Henry II. The author confines himself to the external history of events, and his tone is strictly impersonal. He incorporates some official documents, and in many places obviously derives his information from others which he does not quote. There is a break in his work at the year 1177, where the earliest manuscript ends; but the reasons which have been given to prove that the authorship changes at this point are inconclusive. The work begins at Christmas 1169, and concludes in 1192; it is thus in form a fragment, covering portions of the reign of Henry II. and Richard I.

See W. Stubbs’ Gesta regis Henrici Secundi Benedicti abbatis (2 vols., Rolls series, 1867), and particularly the preface to the first volume; F. Liebermann in Einleitung in den Dialogus de Scaccario (Göttingen, 1875); in Ostenglische Geschichtsquellen (Hanover, 1892); and in Pertz’s Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Scriptores, vol. xxvii. pp. 82, 83; also the introduction to the Dialogus de Scaccario in the Oxford edition of 1902.  (H. W. C. D.)