William of Newburgh

William of Newburgh

William of Newburgh or Newbury (from Latin: Guillelmus Neubrigensis; 1136? – 1198?), also known as William Parvus, was a 12th-century English historian and Augustinian canon from Bridlington, Yorkshire.



His major work was Historia rerum Anglicarum or Historia de rebus anglicis ("History of English Affairs"), a history of England from 1066 to 1198. The work is valued by historians for detailing The Anarchy under Stephen of England. It is written in an engaging fashion and still readable to this day, containing many fascinating stories and glimpses in to 12th-century life. He is a major source for stories of Medieval revenants, those souls who return from the dead, including early vampire stories,[1] and the only source for the bishop-pirate Wimund.

The 19th-century historian Edward Augustus Freeman expressed the now-outdated opinion that William was "the father of historical criticism".1 Indeed he was very critical of King John, whom he describes as "nature's enemy".[2]

Newburgh saw his own work as being based on reliable sources, unlike Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia Regum Britanniae, of which Newburgh was critical, saying "only a person ignorant of ancient history would have any doubt about how shamelessly and impudently he lies in almost everything".2 He criticized Geoffrey for writing a history that conflicted with the accounts found in the writing of Bede.

Because belief in souls returning from the dead was common in the 12th century, Newburghs Historia briefly recounts stories he heard about revenants, as does the work of Walter Map, his southern contemporary. Although they form a minor part in each work, these folklore accounts have attracted attention within occultism.3 He also described the arrival of green children from "St. Martin's Land" (I.27) and other mysterious, wondrous occurrences. While he says that these have an apparent signification, he does not explain what that meaning might be.

He also composed a lengthy Marian exposition on the Song of Songs and three sermons on liturgical texts and Saint Alban.


  • The History of English Affairs Online excerpts, as part of The Church Historians of England, volume IV, part II; translated by Joseph Stevenson (London: Seeley's, 1861). Spelling modernized 1999 by Scott McLetchie.
  • The History of 'William of Newburgh' (1066–1194), Joseph Stevenson (Translator), LLanerch Press, 1996, ISBN 1-86143-013-2, This is believed to be the Seeley's 1861 version as seen above, without Scott McLetchie's spelling updates.
  • Chronicles of the Reigns of Stephen, Henry II and Richard I. Edited by Richard Howlett. Rolls Series no. 82. London, 1884-9. Books 1-4 of William's history appear in volume 1, book 5 in volume 2. Most recent complete source.
  • The History of English Affairs, Book I (Medieval Latin Texts), by William, P.G. Walsh, M.J. Kennedy, 1988, ISBN 0-85668-304-3, Book I only.
  • The Sermons of William of Newburgh (Toronto Medieval Latin Texts) (English and Latin Edition) Edited by AB Kraebel


  1. ^ The Encyclopedia of Monsters, by Daniel Cohen
  2. ^ McGlynn, Sean (June 2010). King John and the French invasion of England, BBC History magazine. Bristol Magazines. ISSN 14698552. 


External links

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