Guibert of Nogent

Guibert of Nogent was bom in the year 1053, at Beauvais, of noble parents. His youth was passed in those times when the Roman Church began to bring the world under its dominion. Many circumstances concurred to subject Guibert altogether to these ecclesiastical influences, his mother was enthusiastically pious, and lived only in the mortification of the outward senses, and in the cultivation of the inward and spiritual perceptions. Before his birth his parents had vowed to devote their son to the service of the Church, and long before manhood he assumed the monk’s cowl at Mavigny. As he grew up, the lusts of the world awoke within him: he became a poet and learned music; he attempted imitations of Ovid and of Virgil’s Bucolics. But his teacher was warned in a vision, and the lad himself saw how he sinned against the rules of his Order. In this frame of mind he met with Anselm, Abbot of Bee, afterwards primate of the English Church, whose powerful influence at once directed him into the strict path of the Church. Gifted as Guibert was, he soon attained fame by his eloquence and learning, and at an early age became abbot of Nogent on the Seine. He remained there, respected by a large circle, and distinguished in politics and literature, until his death, in 1124.

The results of such a career are visible throughout his writings ; he was not without abilities, and for the times in which he lived, he was well read. The advantages of his birth and of his ecclesiastical dignity were of great service to him in writing a history of the Crusades. His acquaintances and connections extended over all France ; he was indebted for many valuable hints to Count Robert of Flanders ; Archbishop Manasses of Rheims allowed him to consult the letters of Anselm of Ripemont and he was himself present at the Council of Clermont. As a man of learning he affects a cultivated style and artistic form, but he only selected the Crusades as his subject, in order to make the ‘ Gesta Francorum,’ in his paraphrase, more agreeable to cultivated readers. It is true that he has succeeded very ill : the simple tone of his original is overwhelmed by his inflated and pompous style; he appears, conscious of his own high position, to disregard the opinion of others ; and frequently intimates that those who do not approve his manner of writing may seek some other. Valuable as his work is, in his literary character, full of pedantry and conceit, he is most offensive . The dignified servant of the Church, the man with whom everything has succeeded, the ecclesiastic who belongs to a ruling party, is too conscious of a proud position. He feels all his power when he attacks Fulcher of Chartres, as to his doubts with respect to the Holy Lance, and reproaches him with credulity and superstition as to other miracles . It was not in vain that Guibert had studied the science of demonology, that he had himself seen visions, and had everywhere found the doctrine of apparitions and wonders flourishing . Nor was it either doubt or enthusiasm that stirred Guibert to anger against Fulcher. The pride of superior learning, the consciousness of belonging to a dominant orthodox party, made him look down with contempt on his rival .

The close of his work is remarkable, hard as he had worked at the historical form of his book, he could not master his mass of learning. He had come to the end of the ‘ Gesta Francorum/ which was his guide, and he still had on hand a. variety of unused materials, too good to be lost to posterity. He determined to use them at all events, and strung fragment upon fragment, digression upon digression, important and useless matter in utter confusion, until his store of knowledge was exhausted. These stories extend as late as the middle of the reign of Baldwin L, and it is easy to conceive how they vary in value and credibility ; the most ordinary and the most unexpected matters are mixed together ; occasionally we find individual notices on points but little known, which throw new light on familiar subjects. Such are the details as to the government of Robert of Normandy in Laodicea, which Lappenberg has made use of, and which are important as correcting a widely spread statement by Albert of Aix, and the account of the Crusade of the year 1011. Of more special subjects we would also mention the death of Anselm of Ripemont and the end of Baldwin of Hennegau ; the former serves to supply deficiencies in the narratives of Raymond and Radulph, the latter is remarkable for its accurate agreement with the local history of Giselbert of Bergen.

The book was begun in the year 1108 or 1109, and certainly not finished till 1110. Guibert says that he is writing two years after the death of Manasses, Archbishop of Rheims, 70 which occurred on the 17th September, 1106, 71 and in another place he mentions the death of Bohemond, which is known to have taken place in the year 1110.

References:

Levine (R.), The Deeds of God through the Franks : A Translation of Guibert de Nogent's "Gesta Dei per Francos", Boydell & Brewer, 1997.

Rubenstein (J.), Guibert of Nogent: Portrait of a Medieval Mind, London, 2002.
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