Historia Brittonum (Gildasian recension)

  • Latin
  • prose
  • Cambro-Latin texts
  • extent: more or less complete

An abridged recension of the Historia Brittonum, commonly termed ‘Gildasian’ or ‘pseudo-Gildas’ because of its erroneous attribution to Gildas. It is close to the Harleian recension of the text and was in wide circulation during the later middle ages, from the 12th century onwards, so much so that David Dumville has called it the ‘vulgate’ recension.

redaction/recension • multiple versions
Context(s)The (textual) context(s) to which the present text belongs or in which it is cited in part or in whole.
Ascribed to: Gildas
(fl. 5th–6th century)
Author of De excidio et conquestu Britanniae

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Subgroup 1, headed Incipit gesta Brittonum a Gilda sapiente composita (or similar):
B =
ff. 228r–243r
rubric: ‘[Incipiunt] Gesta Brittonum a Gilda sapiente composita’
Contains, according to Dumville, the archetype of the recension.
S =
Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, MS lat. 5232
D =
Durham, Cathedral Library, MS B.II.3 ff. 36-150
ff. 129v–136r
I =
Cambridge, University Library, MS Ii. 6. 11
A =
ff. 11r–21r
rubric: ‘Incipiunt Gesta Britonum a Gilda sapiente composita’
Text from the Vatican recension is added in the margins.
London, British Library, MS Royal 13 B xv
Subgroup 2, headed Incipit res gesta Britonum a Gilda sapiente edita:
X =
Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, MS lat. 6274
Subgroup 3, headed Incipit gesta Britonum a Gilda sapiente collecta:
M =
Cambridge, University Library, MS Mm. 5. 29
ff. 107v–118v
P =
Lincoln, Cathedral Library, MS 98
ff. 106r–116
London, British Library, MS Cotton Vitellius E i
Subgroup 4, headed Excerptiones de libro Gildae sapientis, or similar:
N =
London, British Library, MS Cotton Nero D viii
E =
Évreux, Bibliothèque municipale, MS 41
London, British Library, MS Cotton Vitellius F ix
To be verified.
Subgroup 5, headed Incipit liber Gildae sapientis:
R =
Rouen, Bibliothèque municipale, MS U 74
Y =
Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, MS 363
Subtype 6, headed De anglia secundum sapientem Gildam:
V =
Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, MS lat. 15009
  • Latin
9th century (original date of composition)
prose (primary)
Textual relationships
The Gildasian recension was once thought, by Mommsen and others, to have been the one known to Geoffrey of Monmouth when he wrote his Historia, but this suggestion has been disproven since.


Cambro-Latin textsCambro-Latin texts


Secondary sources (select)

Guy, Ben, “Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Welsh sources”, in: Joshua Byron Smith, and Georgia Henley (eds), A companion to Geoffrey of Monmouth, 22, Leiden, Boston: Brill, 2020. 31–66.
Dumville, David N., “Historia Brittonum: an insular history from the Carolingian age”, in: Anton Scharer, and Georg Scheibelreiter [eds.], Historiographie im frühen Mittelalter, 32, Vienna: Oldenbourg, 1994. 406–434.
Dumville, David N., “Celtic-Latin texts in northern England, c. 1150–c. 1250”, Celtica 12 (1977): 19–49.
Dumville, David N., “Textual history of the Welsh-Latin Historia Brittonum”, Ph.D. thesis, Edinburgh University, 1975.  
This thesis presents a new edition of the major recensions of the Historia Brittonum. It is the first to depart from the pattern of conflated texts which has been followed by editors since 1691. Each may now be read as a text in its own right. I have argued that the 'Harleian' recension is the primary version of the Historia Brittonum and belongs to the year 829/30, and have shown that the attribution of the work to one 'Nennius' is late and unacceptable. The complicated textual tradition has been examined, from this early-ninth-century origin, throughout its mediaeval history; the fullest development is seen in the 'Sawley' recension of the beginning of the thirteenth century. I have also considered the early modern tradition of the work, represented by a large group of paper manuscripts prepared by or for the antiquaries of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries as no printed text was available until 1691. In addition to detailed studies of manuscripts and textual tradition, I have prepared a literal modern English translation of the primary recension and have made a detailed preliminary study of its latinity. My remarks on the later recensions concentrate on establishing the filiation of the manuscripts and on placing each new version within the context of the textual tradition as a whole. This has seemed to be the primary requirement in any new investigation of the Historia. Work can now go forward, from a secure textual base, on the implications of this important series of texts for historical and literary studies.
(source: ERA)
Edinburgh Research Archive – PDF: <link>
Vol. 2, 504–586 (Ch. 6)
Dennis Groenewegen
Page created
August 2021, last updated: December 2023