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William of Malmesbury as a Cantor-Historian

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Abstract

Though Robert of Cricklade described William of Malmesbury as a cantor, his exercise of this office hardly figures in the autobiographical passages that pepper the histories for which he is best known—that is, Gesta regum Anglorum, Gesta pontificum Anglorum, and Historia nouella. If their prefaces are to be believed it was a personal predilection for history rather his profession as a monk that drove his efforts as an historian. Though the veracity of this self-representation is doubtful, the latinity and pseudo-classical character of these works would seem to suggest that his activities as a cantor had scarcely any impact on their composition. Yet there are, on the other hand, grounds for thinking that his exercise of this office informed other compositions such as Explanatio Lamentationum Ieremiae, Abbreuiatio Amalarii, and the lost of books of annals. This essay explores the significance of these complexities for our understanding of the ways in which being a cantor helped to shape the writing of history in the Middle Ages.