Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Gaimar, Geoffrey

GAIMAR, GEOFFREY (fl. 1140?), wrote a history of England in French verse, extending from the time of King Arthur's successors to the death of William II. His errors in interpreting the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle Chronicle,' on which most of his history is based, render it probable that he was a Norman by birth, and he may have derived his name from a suburb of Caen, anciently known as Gaimara, and now Gémare. As he tells us in the concluding lines of his history, he wrote at the request of Custance, wife of Ralf Fitzgilbert, who was a friend of Walter Espec [q. v.] It is likely that this Ralf Fitzgilbert is the person to whom Gilbert of Ghent, second earl of Lincoln, granted the lordship of Scampton in Lincolnshire, and it is quite possible that he was an illegitimate member of the same family. Gaimar also speaks, as if from personal knowledge, of Henry I and his queen, Adelaide of Louvain, of Robert, earl of Gloucester, the king's illegitimate son, and of Nicholas de Trailli, a nephew of Walter Espec.

His history follows the 'Anglo-Saxon Chronicle' in the main, many of the differences being attributable either to gratuitous expansion or mistranslation. The insertion of the legendary story of Havelock, the founder of a Danish kingdom in East Anglia, is no doubt owing to the author's residence in Lincolnshire, and the same may be said of his version of the exploits of the more historic Hereward, which differs in some particulars from the well-known prose life. His account of the reign of William II, of which he must have had personal knowledge, is of more value, but is not chronologically accurate. He gives an amusing description of the court held in the New Hall at Westminster at Whitsuntide 1099, and, in narrating the death of the Red King, hints that Walter Tirel was moved to murder his master in consequence of a bragging assertion of his intention to invade France. He speaks also of the grief of the attendants and their careful removal of the corpse, which other writers say was left to a casual woodman, and he praises William for liberality and magnanimity as he does his successor, Henry I. There are four manuscripts of 'Lestorie des Engles,' as the work is called; MS. Bibl. Reg. 13. A. xxi. (Brit. Mus.); Lincoln Cathedral MS. A. 4-12; Durham Cathedral MS. C. iv. 27; and Arundel MS. No. 14, in the College of Arms. A previously written history of earlier times is more than once mentioned in the course of the poem, but it is not known to be extant.

[Monumenta Historica Britannica, pp. 91, 764; Michel's Chroniques Anglo-Normandes, vol. i.; Publications of the Caxton Society, vol. ii.; Church Historians of England, vol. ii. pt. ii. pp. xxi, 729; Lestorie des Engles solum la translacion Maistre Geffrei Gaimar, ed. Sir T. D. Hardy and C. T. Martin (Rolls Ser.), 1888; Michel's Rapports sur les Anciens Monumens de la Littérature et de l'Histoire de la France, i. 44, 194, 244; Roquefort's De l'Etat de la Poésie Françoise, pp. 68, 82-4; Duval's Histoire Littéraire de la France, xiii. 63, xviii. 731, 738; De la Rue's Essais Historiques sur les Bardes, iii. 104, 120; Frere's Manuel de Bibliographie Normande; Pluquet's Mémoire sur les Trouvères Normands, in Mémoires de la Société des Antiquaires de Normandie, i. 375 n., 414-16; Jahrbücher der Literatur, Vienna, lxxvi. 266; Johann Vising's Étude sur le Dialecte Anglo-Normand du XII Siècle, Romania, ix. 480; Küpferschmidt's Die Havelok-Sage bei Gaimar und ihr Verhalten zum Lai d'Havelok; Gent. Mag. 1857, ii. 21; Archæologia, xii. 307-12; Freeman's Norman Conquest, iv. 485, 486, 806, v. 99, 581, 824; Freeman's William II, ii. 660; Lappenberg's England under the Anglo-Saxon Kings; Parker's Early Hist. of Oxford (Oxf. Hist. Soc.), pp. 123, 126, 161, 180, 325; Woodward's Hist. of Wales, pp. 200, 204; H. L. D. Ward's Cat. of Romances in MSS. Department, Brit. Mus. pp. 423, 496, 940; Sir Frederick Madden's Havelock the Dane (Roxburghe Club).]

C. T. M.