Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Richard of Devizes

RICHARD of Devizes (fl. 1191), chronicler, apparently a native of Devizes, Wiltshire, was a monk of the Benedictine house of St. Swithun's, Winchester, in the time of prior Robert. He wrote a chronicle of the deeds of Richard I, and sent it to Robert with a prologue in the form of a letter. This `Chronicon de rebus gestis Ricardi primi' extends from the accession of Richard I to Oct. 1192, when he was making arrangements previous to his departure from Palestine. It is of great value, for Richard was an acute observer, and is amusing, for he was given to sarcasm. He speaks severely of the arrogance of William Longchamp [q. v.], and accuses Walter, archbishop of Rouen, of deceit; makes a curious allusion to the infidelities of Eleanor, the king's mother, to her first husband, Louis VII of France, and inserts a long and quaintly told story of a boy said to have been slain by the Jews of Winchester, in the course of which he says something characteristic of each of several of the principal cities of England. He quotes Virgil, Horace, Ovid, and Lucan, and makes a parade of learning. The speeches that he puts into the mouths of his characters must in some cases be his own composition.

This work, commonly referred to as the 'Gesta Ricardi,' exists in C. C. C. Cambr. MS. 339 and Cott. MS. Dom. A. xiii.; it has been printed and edited by Stevenson for the English Historical Society in 1838, and by Mr. Howlett in vol. iii. of the ‘Chronicles of the Reigns of Stephen, Henry II, and Richard I’ for the Rolls Series in 1886, and has been translated by Stevenson in the series of ‘Church Historians,’ vol. v., and by Giles, reprinted, with differences, in ‘Chronicles of the Crusaders’ in Bohn's Antiquarian Library.

Along with both the manuscripts of the ‘Gesta’ is bound the ‘Annales de Wintonia,’ a chronicle ascribed to Richard by Bale, followed by Pits. Stevenson, in his preface to the ‘Gesta,’ says that he sees no ground for Bale's statement, but his opinion has been controverted by later authorities. This chronicle as given in the C. C. C. Cambr. MS., the earlier of the two, ‘begins with a description of Britain, and goes down to the year 1135,’ though after 1066 it is extremely meagre (Luard). It was certainly written by a Winchester monk of the time of Richard, and presents some likeness to his undoubted work, specially in a passage which, although considered obscure by Luard, obviously refers to the divorce of Queen Eleanor from her first husband. It begins with a dedication to a ‘Master Adam,’ which has been mutilated in binding so that the author's name has been lost. It is possible that Bale saw it before this mutilation, and found Richard's name. In any case it is probable that he was the author (ib.). It presents several inaccuracies, and relates some events, specially those connected with Winchester, in some detail. The other version, in Cotton MS. Dom. A. xiii., which was printed by Luard in his ‘Annales Monastici’ (vol. ii. in the Rolls Series), has evidently been copied, down to 1066, with some alterations, from the C. C. C. Cambridge manuscript, and is carried on in the same handwriting ‘of the end of the thirteenth or beginning of the fourteenth century to the year 1202’ (ib.) Mr. Howlett considers that the four pieces, viz. the ‘Gesta’ and the Chronicle in both manuscripts, are all written by one hand, and by the author himself, who must therefore, according to his view, have been alive in 1202.

[Editions of the Gesta Ricardi I by Stevenson (Engl. Hist. Soc.) and by Howlett (Rolls Ser.); Annales Monastici, vol. ii., Luard's preface (Rolls Ser.); Bale's Scriptt. Brit. Cat. cent. iii. No. 28; Hardy's Cat. of Mat. vol. ii.; Wright's Biogr. Brit. Lit. vol. ii.]

W. H.