Wednesday, 4 May 2016

[#25] Thomas of Monmouth, The Life and Passion of William of Norwich, ed. and trans. Miri Rubin (London, 2014).

Academic Entry

Here Rubin provides an updated translation of Thomas of Monmouth’s Life and Passion of William of Norwich, complete with a comprehensive introduction which considers the context in which the Life was written and the implications of the allegations for Jews more generally. In addition, through the use of footnotes, Rubin draws attention to Thomas of Monmouth’s sources and to those facets of the narrative which are not readily understandable in the modern context.

General Entry

In review #19 I noted my general pessimism concerning scholarship upon Thomas of Monmouth’s Life and Passion of William of Norwich. It does not, however, follow that I have a problem with the source itself. On the contrary, I find it to be a very rich historical source which historians have, on the whole, not given due care and attention to – rather they insist on focusing solely on the implications books 1 and 2. However, thanks to Miri Rubin’s stunning recent edition of the Life I am hopeful that this will remedied in future studies of the narrative. This is not least because it was relatively easy to get lost in the previous published edition of the narrative (Jessopp and James: 1896). In contrast, Rubin’s edition is clear, modern, and expertly commented upon – a consistent feature of the Penguin Classics series generally and Rubin’s work specifically. Rubin’s references, which act as a commentary on the text, make this updated edition of the Life incredibly accessible to academic and lay readers by pointing out what Thomas’ probable sources were and highlighting the significance of specific terms and phrases, the meaning of which might otherwise be lost to modern readers. As a result it is now going to be much harder for scholars working on the text to ignore large swathes of the narrative. This edition is more than simply a translation of, and commentary upon, the Life though given that Rubin provides a highly competent survey of the manuscript, the narrative and the context in the form of her introduction which really helps to bring the text to life. The only criticism that I have ever heard of this edition came from a rather pompous historian, who shall remain nameless, who noted that he would have liked the original Latin text, in response to him, and anybody who shares that issue, I would direct you to Rubin’s equally brillaint transcription of the Life, in the original Latin, which is hosted on the ‘Youth, Violence and Cult’ website (

            Ultimately, I recommend that you, dear reader, try to access as many of the pieces of literature which I review as possible. However, there’s obviously a hierarchy of recommendation as to what should be read. Therefore, I emphatically recommend that if you haven’t already, then you put this book at towards the very top of your ‘to be read’ pile – indeed I would recommend that of any publication of Miri Rubin’s. Finally, if you are interested in learning more about this topic then Professor Rubin is giving a conference paper on the Life at the Leeds International Medieval Congress in July 2016 which, I for one, am really looking forward to.

Work Cited:

Thomas of Monmouth, The Life and Miracles of William of Norwich, ed. Augustus Jessopp and M. R. James (Cambridge, 1896).

Thomas of Monmouth, Vita et Miraculi Sancti Willelmi Martyris Norwicensis, ed. Miri Rubin, available online at

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