Gervase of Canterbury

Gervase of Canterbury

Gervase of Canterbury (Gervasus Dorobornensis) (c. 1141 – c. 1210) was an English chronicler.


If Gervase's brother Thomas, who like himself was a monk of Christ Church, Canterbury, was identical with Thomas of Maidstone, they came of a Kentish family. St. Thomas of Canterbury received his religious profession on February 16, 1163, and also ordained him. He was one of the monks who buried the saint after his martyrdom, December 29, 1170.

In 1178, Gervase took down the depositions of five monks of Canterbury who had witnessed a spectacular flash of light on the moon, thought possibly to be the meteoric impact that formed the Giordano Bruno crater. Later on he took a prominent part in the disputes between the monks and Archbishop Baldwin (1185-1191) and was one of the monks sent to announce to the archbishop an appeal to the pope. In 1189 he was again one of a deputation sent to lay the matter before King Richard I. As yet, Gervase, though one of the senior monks, had held no prominent office, but about this time he was made sacristan, for in 1193 he attended the new archbishop, Hubert Walter, in that capacity. He probably ceased to hold this office in 1197 when he speaks of one "Felix", as sacristan.

The rest of Gervase's life is obscure. He was still writing in 1199 and there are slight indications in another chronicle, the "Gesta Regum", that he continued to write till 1210, when a sudden change in style and arrangement point to a new chronicler. His death may therefore be assumed in or soon after that year. Gervase has occasionally been confused with others of the same name, notably with Gervase of S. Ceneri, and thus he is described as prior of Dover by Dom Brial ("Recueil des Historiens de France", XVII, 1818), which is impossible on chronological grounds. Sir Thomas Hardy identifies him with Gervase of Chichester, but Dr. Stubbs shows good reasons against this theory, as also against confusing him with Gervase of Melkeley.


The works of Gervase consist of: (1) "The Chronicle", covering the period from 1100 to 1199. It was first printed by Twysden in "Historiae Anglicanae Scriptores Decem" (London, 1652). (2) The "Gesta Regum", which is in part an abridgment of the earlier chronicle, and from the year 1199 an independent source of great value for the early years of John's reign. (3) "Actus Pontificum Cantuariensis Ecclesia", a history of the archbishops of Canterbury to the death of Hubert Walter in 1205, also printed by Twysden with the chronicle. (4) "Mappa Mundi", a topographical work with lists of bishoprics and ecclesiastical foundations in the various counties of England, Wales, and part of Scotland. The works of Gervase were published in the "Rolls Series" in 1879–1880 under the editorship of Dr. Stubbs, whose introduction has been the groundwork of all subsequent accounts of Gervase.

Modern representations

A play by Dorothy L. Sayers, "The Zeal of Thy House" is based on Gervase's account of the death of William of Sens.


* [ British Historical Documents]

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