Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Eadmer

EADMER or EDMER (d. 1124?), historian, was a monk of Canterbury at the end of the eleventh and the beginning of the twelfth century, distinguished among his contemporaries for high character and literary powers. His works, the principal part of which have survived to our day, fully justify his reputation. There are few better pieces of contemporary history than his ‘Historia Novorum;’ and his biographies, especially that of Anselm, are of a higher order than most similar compositions. Nothing apparently is known of Eadmer before he emerges into notice as the close companion and friend of Archbishop Anselm. Leland and Bale have very carelessly confused him with an Eadmer who was abbot of St. Albans, and died in 980, more than a hundred years before the era of the Canterbury monk. In this error they have been followed by Pits. Nothing, indeed, can well be more absurd than Bale's account of this writer. As regards contemporary estimate, William of Malmesbury may be cited, who says that in his narrative of events he does not venture to compare himself to Eadmer, ‘who has told everything so lucidly that he seems somehow to have placed them before our very eyes. For those who wish to read the letters which passed between the pope, the king, and Anselm, the book of Eadmer will give every facility. He has so arranged the letters as to support and verify all his assertions in the most decisive way’ (De Gest. Pontiff. vol. i.). Eadmer must have been well known to Pope Urban before the end of the eleventh century, for when Anselm after his consecration desired to have some one assigned to him by the pope as his director, Eadmer was thus assigned to him; and, says William of Malmesbury, he was so completely under his guidance that, being accustomed to have him in his chamber, Anselm not only never rose without his command, but would not even change his side in bed without his permission. Selden, who edited Eadmer's main work (‘Historia Novorum’) from a manuscript in the Cotton Library in 1623, has pointed out in his preface the very high merits of this work. Especially is it distinguished by its avoidance of all trivial details and alleged miracles, which abound in most of the monkish histories. Compared with William of Malmesbury's work on the same period, in which these grotesque miracles abound, Eadmer's is vastly superior. His style is good and contains very few unclassical words. His history, after a brief mention of some of the English kings anterior to the conquest, begins practically from that date, and is continued to 1122—a work, says William of Malmesbury, ‘remarkable for its sober and pleasant style’ (De Gest. Regum). The history throughout has a special regard for ecclesiastical matters, and for the doings of the two archbishops of Canterbury (Anselm and Ralph) with whom the writer was in the closest relations. He tells us (bk. ii.) that it had been his custom from childhood to take special note of all matters connected with the church. Eadmer shows a strong national feeling, and asserts the rights and privileges of the English church. The ‘Life of St. Anselm’ was first printed at Antwerp in 1551. It was reprinted with the chief editions of Anselm's works, and has been edited, together with the ‘Historia Novorum,’ in the Rolls Series (1884), by Mr. Martin Rule. Eadmer composed many other biographical and ecclesiastical pieces, the manuscripts of which are in the collection of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. Of these the following have been printed by Henry Wharton in the second part of the ‘Anglia Sacra:’ 1. A ‘Life of St. Dunstan,’ written, according to Mr. Wright (Biog. Lit.), at the beginning of the twelfth century. This had been previously printed by Surius in an imperfect form. It has appended to it, in Wharton, some very curious correspondence as to the body of St. Dunstan. 2. A ‘Life of St. Bregwin, Archbishop of Canterbury 759–63.’ This was written after the death of Archbishop Ralph, which took place in 1122. 3. A ‘Life of St. Oswald, Archbishop of York.’ This, says Mr. Wright, ‘appears to be little more than an abridgment of a life written by a monk of Ramsey in the time of Archbishop Ælfric, and preserved in Cotton MS. Nero E.’ There is also a ‘Life of Wilfrid’ by Eadmer, printed by Mabillon in the ‘Act. Ord. Bened.’ This he professes to have compiled partly from Bede and partly from a ‘Life of Wilfrid’ by Odo, archbishop of Canterbury, which is perhaps the same as the metrical life by Fridegode (Wright). Lists of other minor works of Eadmer will be found in Wharton and in Bale. In 1120 this monk, who had become widely known both by his writings and also by his close companionship, first with Archbishop Anselm, and then with Archbishop Ralph, was selected by Alexander, king of Scotland, for the archbishopric of St. Andrews, which had been for some time vacant (cf. Historia Novorum, books v. and vi.) Alexander sent a deputation to Archbishop Ralph to ask for his monk Eadmer, who had been highly recommended to him for the primatial see. Upon this the archbishop wrote to King Henry, who was at Rouen, and obtained his consent. He then despatched Eadmer into Scotland, but with strict orders not to agree to anything as to his consecration which should compromise the dignity of the see of Canterbury. This was the time of the most bitter rivalry between the northern and southern primates. Eadmer was duly elected by the chapter of St. Andrews, but a difficulty at once arose as to his consecration. The Scotch king would not agree to either of the English primates consecrating. Eadmer maintained that the jurisdiction of Canterbury extended over the whole island, and that he must be consecrated by Archbishop Ralph. This utterly untenable claim Alexander would not allow, and after a time Eadmer returned to Canterbury without any arrangement as to his consecration. After remaining a year and a half in the monastery without a settlement being arrived at, Eadmer sent a letter to the king of Scotland resigning all claims to the see. Gervase, a monkish historian of Canterbury of a little later date, often quotes Eadmer, and describes him as the cantor or precentor of the church. He has sometimes been confused with Elmer, who was prior of the Christ Church monastery about the same time. Pits, in the strangely inaccurate account which he gives of him, makes him a Cluniac monk and abbot of St. Albans. The death of Eadmer is usually assigned to 1124.

[Eadmeri Monachi Cantuarensis Historia Novorum, ed. Selden, London, 1623; Anglia Sacra, pt. ii., London, 1691; Wilhelmi Malmesburiensis De Gestis Pontiff. Angl., London, 1870; Bale, De Scriptt. Britann., Basel, 1557; Collier's Eccl. Hist. vol. ii., London, 1845; Wright's Biographia Literaria, Anglo-Saxon Period, London, 1862.]

G. G. P.