Open main menu

CALENIUS, WALTER (d. 1151), is the name given by Bale to a person whom earlier writers mention only as ‘Walter, Archdeacon of Oxford.’ There is strong reason for believing that the designation ‘Calenius’ was coined by Bale himself, or at all events that it was invented in the sixteenth century. Among the scholars of that period ‘Calena’ (a misreading for Calleva or Caleva, which occurs in Ptolemy and Antoninus as the name of a Roman station now known to have been at Silchester) was commonly understood to be a Latin name for Oxford. Thus in Elyot's Latin-English dictionary (3rd edition by Cooper, 1559) we find the explanation ‘Calena, a towne in Englande called Oxforde;’ and in Bale's own work (Script. Ill. Maj. Brit., Basle ed. 1557, pt. ii. p. 26) there is an article on Olenus Calenus, an Etruscan soothsayer who is mentioned by Pliny, and who, Bale informs us, ‘is said by some to have migrated to Britain, and to have given his name to the city of Calena, now called Oxford.’ Bale also quotes from Gesner's ‘Onomasticon’ the statement that ‘the Calena of Ptolemy is believed to have been the city which now bears the name of Oxford.’ It seems therefore certain that Bale's ‘Gualterus Calenius’ is nothing else than a pseudo-classical rendering of ‘Walter of Oxford.’ Subsequently, however, Calena was identified by Camden with Wallingford, on the fancied ground that the Welsh guall hen, ‘old wall,’ was the etymon both of the Roman and the modern name. This identification led Bishop Kennet to conjecture that Walter ‘Calenius’ was so called on account of his having been born at Wallingford. Kennet's conjecture obtained general currency from being adopted by Le Neve, and in many modern books (e.g. in the edition of Henry of Huntingdon published in the Rolls Ser.) the archdeacon of Oxford is designated by the quite unwarranted appellation of ‘Walter of Wallingford.’

Although the surname ‘Calenius’ is, as we have seen, merely a modern figment, it may be convenient to retain it for the sake of distinction, inasmuch as there were in the twelfth century two other archdeacons of Oxford who bore the name of Walter—viz. Walter of Coutances, appointed in 1183, and Walter Map, appointed in 1196. Leland confounded the subject of this article with Walter Map, and although Bale correctly distinguished between the two men, the confusion is still frequently met with.

The most important fact which is known respecting Walter ‘Calenius’ is that he brought over from Brittany the ‘British’ (i.e. either Breton or Welsh) book of which Geoffrey of Monmouth professed that his ‘History of the Kings of Britain’ was a translation. Geoffrey speaks of the archdeacon as ‘accomplished in the art of oratory and in foreign history;’ and in the course of his work he intimates that in his account of Arthur he has supplemented the statements of his British author by information which had been supplied to him by Walter himself. Ranulph Higden mentions Walter, archdeacon of Oxford, in his list of the authorities followed by him in his ‘Polychronicon.’ It is quite possible that Higden may have had access to some genuine work of Walter which is now lost. On the other hand, there is evidence that a recension of the ‘History of the Kings of Britain’ was in circulation, in which Geoffrey's connection with the work was ignored, and in which Walter himself was alleged to have translated it into the British tongue. The Welsh versions of this history, preserved in two manuscripts in the library of Jesus College, Oxford, distinctly assign the authorship of their immediate Latin original to Walter instead of Geoffrey. Leland, however, drew from Higden's statement the inference that Walter probably wrote a history of his own time; and Bale expanded Leland's conjecture into the definite assertion that ‘Calenius’ was the author of a continuation (‘auctarium’) of Geoffrey's history and of a history of his own time, each in one book, besides a book of ‘Letters to his Friends,’ and ‘many other works.’ It may be suspected that in this case, as in many proved instances, Bale drew upon his imagination for his facts. Henry of Huntingdon, in his ‘Epistola ad Walterum de Contemptu Mundi,’ speaks of Walter, archdeacon of Oxford, as a distinguished rhetorician, and states that he was the successor of Alfred, who was one of the archdeacons appointed by Remigius, bishop of Lincoln. This Walter is identical with the so-called Calenius. The Walter to whom the ‘Epistola’ was addressed was formerly supposed to be the same person, but this is impossible, as Henry states that the friend to whom the letter was written died before it was finished, which was in 1135, whereas Walter ‘Calenius’ lived until 1151.

Bishop Kennet's manuscript in the British Museum (Lansdowne, 935) states that Walter is mentioned as archdeacon of Oxford in 1104 and 1111, but no references are given to the documents in which these dates occur. He sat as the king's justiciar at Peterborough in 1125, together with Richard Basset, and also at Winchester with Robert Bloet, bishop of Lincoln. The date of the last-mentioned assize is not given, but the fact that Faritius, abbot of Abingdon, appears before the court on this occasion shows that it was not later than 1118. Walter was a witness to charters of Abingdon Monastery in 1115, and also to the foundation charter of Oseney Abbey in 1129. On the foundation of Godstow Nunnery by Alexander, bishop of Lincoln, in 1138, Walter gave to it the tithes of his estate at Cudeslawe. He was a canon of the collegiate church of St. George within the castle at Oxford, and according to the Oseney Abbey chronicle he was successful in claiming for his own collegiate body the rights over the church of St. Mary Magdalene, the possession of which had been usurped by the prior of St. Frideswide's. This transaction, however, is somewhat obscure, as we read in the same chronicle that in 1151 the pope confirmed to the abbey of Oseney the possession of the church of St. George and its dependent church of St. Mary Magdalene, which the prior of St. Frideswide's had claimed on the ground of an illegal grant made by Walter. Bishop Kennet states that the Oseney register (the manuscript of which has since been destroyed by fire) mentions Walter as still archdeacon in 1151. As Robert Foliot was appointed archdeacon of Oxford in 1151, it is probable that Walter died in that year.

The statement of Bale that Walter was a Welshman is probably a mere inference from the interest which he took in British antiquities.

[Leland's Comm. de Scriptoribus, p. 187; Bale's Script. Ill. Maj. Brit. (ed. Basle, 1557), p. 180; Geoffrey of Monmouth, i. 1, xi. 1, xii. 20; Chron. Mon. Abingdon (Stevenson), i. 62, 63; MS. Lansdowne, 935, ff. 49, 50; Henry of Huntingdon (ed. Arnold), p. 304; Annales Monastici (Luard), i. 218; Higden's Polychronicon, i. 2; Dugdale's Monasticon (Ellis), iv. 362; Ward's Cat. Romances in Brit. Mus. i. 218.]

H. B.