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Geoffrey of Monmouth

Geoffrey of Monmouth was a clergyman and one of the major figures in the development of British history. Born in about 1100 in Wales, he probably had some Breton blood. After graduating from Oxford University, he became archdeacon of Llandaff and/or Monmouth, and in 1152 he rose to the position of bishop of St Asaph[?]. He died around 1154.

Geoffrey of Monmouth wrote several works of interest. The earliest one to appear was Prophetiae Merlini or "The Prophecies of Merlin," which he wrote at some point before 1135. Geoffrey presented a series of apocalyptic narratives as the work of the earlier Merlin -- who, until Geoffrey's book came out, was known as "Myrddin". (It is assumed that Geoffrey changed the name of the seer to avoid an obscenity.) The first work in a non-Welsh language about this legendary prophet, this was widely read -- and believed much as the prophecies of Nostradamus are centuries later.

Next was Historia Regum Britanniae -- "The History of the Kings of Britain" -- his one work best known to his modern readers. It claims to trace the ancestry of the kings of Britain, but much of it - for example, the idea that Aeneas was a founder of the race - is pure myth. It is one of the first texts to mention King Arthur, and it continued to influence British writers and historians for several centuries.

Lastly, Geoffrey wrote the Vita Merlini -- "The Life of Merlin" -- at some point between 1149 and 1151. This is Geoffrey's own retelling of the earlier Merlin legend from Welsh tradition.

All of these books were written in Latin, as were all learned works of the medieval period.

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