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Historian and Ecclesiast
Born circa 1085 Died 1155

Biography

Henry was born at or near Ramsey in the county of Huntingdonshire sometime between the years 1080 and 1090, where his father Nicholas, was the archdeacon of Hertford and Huntingdon. (The rules regarding the celibacy of the clergy were not yet being strictly enforced in England.)

He served in the household of the Bishop of Lincoln, Robert Bloet and and was there educated by Albinus of Angers. After the death of his father Nicholas in 1110, he succeeded him as archdeacon of Hertford and Huntingdon.

The only other fact that is known about his life is that he accompanied the Archbishop of Canterbury Theobald on a visit to Rome in 1139, when they stopped off on the way at the Abbey of Bec where he met the Norman historian, Robert de Torigny.

Henry probably died in 1155, as a new archdeacon of Huntingdon had been appointed by that time. He was buried at Lincoln Cathedral where his tomb is still located.

The Historia Anglorum

The attentive reader will learn in this work both what he ought to imitate, and what
he ought to eschew; and if he becomes the better for this imitation and this avoidance,
that is the fruit of my labours which I most desire.

From the preface to the Historia Anglorum

Sometime around the year 1123 Alexander, who succeeded Robert Bloet as the Bishop of Lincoln, commissioned Henry to write a history, specifically to ‘narrate the history of this kingdom and the origins of our people’. The resulting work Historia Anglorum or the 'History of the English' eventually comprised ten books and recounted the history of Britain from the coming of Julius Caeasar to the accession of Henry II to the throne in 1154.

The Historia Anglorum is of little independent value before 1126 as it is merely a complilation of previous works be Bede, Nennius and the like, as well as drawing heavily on the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. But from 1127 onwards the work was original and Henry wrote as a contemporary eye-witness to events.

It was a work of popular history written in a very simple straightforward Latin full of anecdotes and dramatic details and proved indeed to be popular over succeeding generations. As a historian however, Henry leaves something to be desired. He paid little regard to the validity of his sources and was happy to treated the work of Geoffrey of Monmouth with equal regard as that of Bede. He was prone to exaggeration and wasn't above inventing a good story and his chronology is not particularly reliable. His reputation has therefore become tarnished and has somewhat diminished over the ages.

The Historia Anglorum however remains a work of some interest as it provides the source of many of the popular misconceptions of English and British history. From this work that comes the the account of Henry I dying from eating his famous surfeit of lampreys (which may well have been true) as well as the tale of King Cnut and the waves (which almost certainly wasn't); which later became staple ingredients of many subsequent popular histories.

Henry was also occasionally quite blunt about the conduct of rulers, even those that were his contemporaries, when he thought he had a moral point to make. It is probably just as well for him that the work wasn't fully published until after his death in 1596 when it was included by Saville in his Rerum Anglicarum scriptores post Bedam

Henry of Huntingdon also wrote a number poems, satires, epigrams, and hymns, as well as a complilation of the lives of the English saints and their miracles drawn from the work of Bede, but it is only really for the Historia Anglorum that he is remembered.

See here how the nations prosper, realms decay
And draw the moral for the future day


SOURCES

The Catholic Encyclopedia at http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/07235d.htm
The 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica at http://20.1911encyclopedia.org/H/HE/HENRY_OF_HUNTINGDON.htm

as well as articles on Henry of Huntingdon found at
http://www.oup.co.uk/worldsclassics/mag/eels/
http://www.geocities.com/thekrazyceltic/henryofhunt.html

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