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The History of the Kings of Britain (Classics) Paperback – 25 Jan 1973

4.1 out of 5 stars 14 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; New Impression edition (25 Jan. 1973)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140441700
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140441703
  • Product Dimensions: 13.5 x 3 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 102,324 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

Product Description

About the Author

Very little is known of Geoffrey of Monmouth. He seems to have lived for a time in Oxford and in 1151 he became Bishop Elect of St Asaph, North Wales. He was ordained at Westminster in 1152. According to the Welsh Chronicles he died in 1155.


Lewis Thorpe was Professor of French at Nottingham University from 1958 to 1977. He has published many books and articles on Arthur, both on the French and English traditions. He died in 1977.


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Britain, the best of islands,1 is situated in the Western Ocean, [1,2] between France and Ireland. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars
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Really good book, detailing the (often mythological) ancient history of Britain, with a large section on King Arthur and Merlin's prophecies; which are reason enough to purchase the book! Expect bloodshed, epic battles and pillaging...
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This is the source of so many of the Arthur stories written later that it is an absolute Must Read for anyone interested in the topic. Fortunately for an old text, it's also easy reading as Monmouth has a good eye for a story (which is all history meant at the time).

As history, it's not at all reliable with the kind of distant relationship with anything that may have occured that the Iliad has to Mycenae. Do not treat as anything remotely resembling gospel as he's clearly made up chunks all over the place.

On the other hand, it is believed that he had access to welsh sources other than the Mabinogion, now lost and that alone would be reason to read him.
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I honestly did like it, but with books of this genre is does tend to drag on a little bit, which a wealth of characters - many with the same name, easy to get bored of half way through, not a must read but do if you can. More of a book to study to gather back-up for aruguments.
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Very interesting book, have read virtually all of it. Just seems a shame that the opinion of most who really know about such things don't know id it is to taken as a truthful record, of it Geoffrey has made it all up! Willl have to do some more research.
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This needs reviewing on two levels. The easiest is the translation which is very clear on its sources from the various versions of Geoffrey which exist. It does not give too many footnotes in the text - I would have preferred more as I have little other background on the myth. As a first encounter with the text though this version is very accessible, within limits.

The actual tale as far as I can tell is written to condemn the Saxons (called Angles only once) and paint the real Britons as being of great stock, apparently descended from the Trojans and related to the Romans. The Britons have a long history full of strange names and detail - for example the source of King Lear! All very well until we hit Merlin and Uther Pendragon. There is the story of the conception of Arthur and a massive prophecy from Merlin who then mostly vanishes. The Arthur story has the sword Caliburn and Guinevere, noble knights and great battles. Unknown to me Arthur also conquers Iceland, France and Rome! In fact the book is riddled with attacks on Gaul or by Gaul, and Brittany is of course Amorica and really settled by the Britons. Arthur is betray by Mordred and vanishes of allowing the text to quickly pass through to the ultimate demise of the Britons (apart from a few scattered in the places now recognised as Celtic - Wales, Cornwall and so forth).

So the English are the baddies and thankfully the Normans sorted them out in 1066, but one day the Britons will rise with their King Arthur - what will we English do I wonder?

All in all an amusing read, and shows the power of politics and the seeds of the more modern legends.
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This is history only in the loosest sense, as it is a compilation drawn from many sources. However, it gives a small window through which to see how our forebears perceived themselves and their world. It is also well-written, and so is worth reading if only for the tale it tells.
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This is an odd book. As history it's no good, because it's mostly false. As a work of fiction it's often too brisk to be engaging. King after King is born, fights, looses, dies. The headline star is Arthur, of course. Whereas some kings have their lives summarised in a paragraph, Arthur has 49 pages, over a fifth of the book devoted to him.

The account of Arthur given here differs from the later, romantic tales in ways that are good and bad. One the plus side, the focus stays on Arthur and doesn't drift to the knights of his court. Best of all, this is a version without that dreadful prig Lancelot (the most irritating character in English literature). On the minus side, Arthur's story is reduced to little more than a series of battles, and Geoffrey's account of his death, or retirement to Avalon, is even more cursory than Malory's.

Some of the other Kings whose lives are recounted here, such as Lear, Vortigern, Aurelius Ambrosius and Cadwallo, are actually more interesting. Sometimes this is because of their characters, sometimes it's because of the events through which they live, sometimes it's because their stories appear to lie closer to true history than those of Merlin and Brutus, for example. This is the main attraction of this book: not the fact that it inspired later writers like Shakespeare, etc., but the teasing prospect that somewhere in here, beneath all the distortion and elaboration, lie nuggets of truth.
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