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OSBERN (fl. 1090), hagiographer, was a monk of Christchurch, Canterbury, where, as he tells us himself, he was brought up from boyhood during the rule of Godric, who was dean from about 1058 to 1080; he would seem to have been there before the burning of the cathedral in 1067 (Vita Dunstani, p. 137–8, 142). He was a witness of, and helper in, Lanfranc's monastic reforms, and ‘by his industry in the musical and literary labours of the convent’ rose to be sub-prior and precentor. He had visited Dunstan's cell at Glastonbury; as a boy had some share in one of the miracles worked at the saint's tomb; had learnt of another miracle from a knight he met in Thanet; and himself had seen St. Dunstan in a vision (ib. pp. 84, 138, 156, 158–9). The date of his death is unknown, but in a Christchurch obituary he is commemorated on 28 Nov. He wrote under Lanfranc's direction, and during the archbishop's lifetime; apparently he survived Scotland, abbot of St. Augustine's, Canterbury, who died in 1087, as well as the election in 1088 of Urban II to the papacy, for he refers to Albert the Cardinal, who was appointed by Urban II (ib. pp. 148, 151, 155, 157). On the other hand, it does not seem likely that he can have lived till the appointment of Anselm in 1093, and Eadmer, in his life of St. Anselm, refers to him as ‘Osbernus jocundæ memoriæ.’ William of Malmesbury praises the ‘Roman elegance’ of Osbern's style, ‘for which he was second to none of our time; whilst for music he was beyond controversy first of all’ (Gesta Regum, pp. 166, 389).

Osbern wrote: 1. ‘Vita Sancti Dunstani,’ to which is appended a ‘Liber miraculorum Sancti Dunstani.’ Both the life and miracles are printed in Mabillon's ‘Acta Sanctorum Ordinis S. Benedicti,’ sæc. v. 644–84, in the Bollandists' ‘Acta Sanctorum’ May, iv. 359–384, in Migne's ‘Patrologia,’ cxxxvii. 414–474, and in Stubbs's ‘Memorials of St. Dunstan,’ pp. 69–161; the ‘Life’ alone is given in Wharton's ‘Anglia Sacra,’ 88–121. Osbern had used the two earlier lives by an author known as ‘B.’ and by Adelard respectively. He also had access to some English writings, and some of the miracles are related from his own knowledge. The story of Dunstan seizing the devil by the nose and other incidents occur for the first time in Osbern's ‘Life.’ Both Eadmer and William of Malmesbury found fault with Osbern's treatment of his material, and wrote their lives of the saint in correction. The numerous manuscripts of Osbern's ‘Life’ fall into two classes, which possibly represent two editions issued by the author; but more probably the second was due to the corrections of a later hand after Eadmer's adverse criticism (Stubbs, Introduction, pp. xxxiii, xliii–xlviii). There is another ‘Life’ which passes under the name of Osbert, and is printed by Mabillon (sæc. v. 684–95), who thinks that Osbert lived about 1120; others suppose that Osbert was identical with Osbern; but seemingly this life is really the work of Eadmer (Hardy, i. 604). There is a sixteenth-century translation into English in Harleian MS. 537, ff. 9–25. 2. ‘Vita Sancti Alphegi et de Translatione Sancti Alphegi.’ This is printed in Mabillon, sæc. vi. 104–15; the Bollandists' ‘Acta Sanctorum,’ April, ii. 631–42; Wharton's ‘Anglia Sacra,’ ii. 127–47; Migne's ‘Patrologia,’ cxlix. 375–94; and Langebek's ‘Scriptores Rerum Danicarum,’ ii. 439. Eadmer says that the ‘Life’ was written by Lanfranc's order, not only in plain speech for reading, but also for singing with a musical accompaniment; Lanfranc directed it to be sung in church. The ‘Life’ of St. Alphege or Aelfheah is quoted by Eadmer (Memorials of St. Dunstan, p. 419) and William of Malmesbury (Gesta Pontificum, p. 33). Osbern says that he had his account of the translation of St. Alphege from Godric the dean, who had been one of Alphege's scholars (Mabillon, p. 113). 3. ‘Vita Sancti Odonis Archiepiscopi Cantuariensis.’ William of Malmesbury quotes Osbern's life of Odo (Gesta Pontificum, p. 24–5); it was in Cotton MS. Otho A. xii, which was destroyed in the fire of 1731. The life printed in Wharton's ‘Anglia Sacra,’ ii. 78–87, by Mabillon, sæc. v. 287–96, and in Migne's ‘Patrologia,’ cxxxiii. 931, is not Osbern's; it may be by Eadmer. The life of St. Bregwin in ‘Anglia Sacra,’ ii. 75–77, is incorrectly attributed to Osbern. The life of St. Edward the Confessor and the epistles attributed to Osbern really belong to Osbert de Clare [see Clare]. Osbern is alleged to have written two treatises, ‘De Re Musica’ and ‘De Vocum Consonantiis,’ which Fetis (Dict. des Musiciens, vii. 99) says exist in several manuscripts, a copy of the former being preserved at Christ's College, Cambridge.

[Stubbs's Memorials of St. Dunstan, Introduction, pp. xxxi–xxxii, xlii–xlviii, lxiii–lxvi, Rolls Ser.; Eadmer's Vita Anselmi, i. ch. 30; Wharton's Anglia Sacra, ii. viii; Oudin's Scriptores Ecclesiæ, ii. 757; Mabillon's Acta Sanctorum Ord. S. Benedicti, Venice edit.; Tanner's Bibl. Brit.-Hib. p. 563; Wright's Biogr. Brit. Litt. Anglo-Norman, pp. 26–7; Hardy's Descriptive Catalogue of British History, i. 597–600, 603–4, 609, 619–21.]

C. L. K.