1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Gervase of Tilbury

GERVASE OF TILBURY (fl. 1211), Anglo-Latin writer of the late 12th and early 13th centuries, was a kinsman and schoolfellow of Patrick, earl of Salisbury, but lived the life of a scholarly adventurer, wandering from land to land in search of patrons. Before 1177 he was a student and teacher of law at Bologna; in that year he witnessed the meeting of the emperor Frederic I. and Pope Alexander III. at Venice. He may have hoped to win the favour of Frederic, who in the past had found useful instruments among the civilians of Bologna. But Frederic ignored him; his first employer of royal rank was Henry fitz Henry, the young king of England (d. 1183), for whom Gervase wrote a jest-book which is no longer extant. Subsequently we hear of Gervase as a clerk in the household of William of Champagne, cardinal archbishop of Reims (d. 1202). Here, as he himself confesses, he basely accused of heretical opinions a young girl, who had rejected his advances, with the result that she was burned to death. He cannot have remained many years at Reims; before 1189 he attracted the favour of William II. of Sicily, who had married Joanna, the sister of Henry fitz Henry. William took Gervase into his service and gave him a country-house at Nola. After William’s death the kingdom of Sicily offered no attractions to an Englishman. The fortunes of Gervase suffered an eclipse until, some time after 1198, he found employment under the emperor Otto IV., who by descent and political interest was intimately connected with the Plantagenets. Though a clerk in orders Gervase became marshal of the kingdom of Arles, and married an heiress of good family. For the delectation of the emperor he wrote, about 1211, his Otia Imperialia in three parts. It is a farrago of history, geography, folklore and political theory—one of those books of table-talk in which the literature of the age abounded. Evidently Gervase coveted but ill deserved a reputation for encyclopaedic learning. The most interesting of his dissertations are contained in the second part of the Otia, where he discusses, among other topics, the theory of the Empire and the geography and history of England. We do not know what became of Gervase after the downfall of Otto IV. But he became a canon; and may perhaps be identified with Gervase, provost of Ebbekesdorf, who died in 1235.

See the Otia Imperialia in G. Leibnitz’s Scriptores rerum Brunsvicensium, vols. i. and ii. (Hanover, 1707); extracts in J. Stevenson’s edition of Coggeshall (Rolls series, 1875). Of modern accounts the best are those by W. Stubbs in his edition of Gervase of Canterbury, vol. i. introd. (Rolls series, 1879), and by R. Pauli in Nachrichten der Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften zu Göttingen (1882). In the older biographers the Dialogus de scaccario of Richard Fitz Neal (q.v.) is wrongly attributed to Gervase. (H. W. C. D.)