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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).>br>Volume I. From the Beginnings to the Cycles of Romance.

IX. Latin Chroniclers from the Eleventh to the Thirteenth Centuries

§ 14. Ralph of Diceto

“Well illustrated as the reigns of Henry II and Richard are,” says Stubbs, “one side of their character would be imperfectly known, and some of the crises of their policies would be almost inexplicable,” without Ralph of Diceto. Ralph was another chronicler whose public life and position brought him into close contact with the great men of his time, and gave him access to the best sources of information. He was for many years archdeacon of Middlesex, and, from the year 1180 until his death, about 1202, held the deanery of St Paul’s. “Diceto” appears to have been an artificial Latin name adopted by Ralph to signify his association with some place, probably French, which had no proper Latin name of its own. His chief work is entitled Imagines Historiarum, or Outlines of Histories, extending from the year 1148 down to 1202. Robert de Monte’s chronicle forms the basis of his narrative down to 1172; from that year begin his own original memoranda, which are of especial value as contemporary records from 1183 onwards. Ralph is one of the most sober and straightforward of the chroniclers, and is little given to gossip or rhetorical decoration. His work is somewhat deficient in orderly arrangement, and its chronology is not always to be relied upon. Ralph, however, had much of the insight of the historian who seeks to analyse and to account for, as well as to record, public events and movements, and he was a shrewd judge of character and motive. His chronicle is illustrated by many important contemporary documents, to which his position gave him special means of access.

Of the several other chroniclers who wrote during the latter part of the twelfth, and the opening years of the thirteenth, century, only a passing mention need be made. Gervase of Canterbury, who died about 1210, is chiefly remembered as an ecclesiastical historian, and as one of the standard authorities on the contemporary history of the see to which he belonged. One of his works, entitled Gesta Regum, which is of some value as illustrating the reign of John, perpetuates the Brutus legend to which Geoffrey of Monmouth had given so startling a currency. A more important authority for king John’s reign is Ralph, abbot of the Cistercian abbey of Coggeshall, whose Chronicon Anglicanum (1066–1223) contains, among other things, a full and well-informed account of Richard I’s crusade.