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Guibert of Nogent

Guibert of Nogent

Guibert of Nogent (c.1055–1124) was a Benedictine historian, theologian and author of autobiographical memoirs. Guibert was relatively unknown in his own time, going virtually unmentioned by his contemporaries. He has only recently caught the attention of scholars who have been more interested in his extensive autobiographical memoirs and personality which provide insight into medieval life.

Guibert was born of parents from the minor nobility at Clermont-en-Beauvaisis. Guibert claims that it took his parents over seven years to conceive, as he writes in his Monodiae. According to his memoirs, the labour nearly cost him and his mother their lives, as Guibert turned around in the womb. Guibert's family made an offering to a shrine of the Virgin Mary, and promised that if Guibert survived, he would be dedicated to a clerical life. Since he survived, he followed this path. His father was violent, unfaithful and prone to excess and died within a year of his birth. In his memoirs, Guibert views his death as a type of blessing, stating that if his father had survived, he likely would have forced Guibert to become a knight, thus breaking the oath to the Virgin Mary to dedicate Guibert to the church. His mother was domineering, of great beauty and intelligence, and exceedingly zealous. Guibert writes so much about his mother, and in such detail, that some scholars, such as Archambault, have suggested that he may have had an Oedipus complex. She assumed control of his education, isolated him from his peers and hired him a private tutor, from the ages of six to twelve. Guibert remembers the tutor as brutally exacting, and incompetent; yet nevertheless Guibert and his tutor developed a strong bond. Around the age of twelve, his mother retired to an abbey near Saint-Germer-de-Fly (or Flay), and Guibert soon followed. Entering the Order at St. Germer, he studied with great zeal, devoting himself at first to the secular poets Ovid and Virgil—an experience which left its imprint on his works. He later changed his focus to theology, through the influence of Anselm of Bec, who later became the Canterbury.

In 1104, he was chosen abbot of the poor and tiny abbey of Nogent-sous-Coucy (founded 1059) and henceforth took a more prominent part in ecclesiastical affairs, where he came into contact with bishops and court society. More importantly, it gave him time to engage in his passion for writing. His first major work of this period is his history of the First Crusade called Dei gesta per Francos ("God's deeds through the Franks"), finished in 1108 and touched up in 1121. The history is largely a paraphrase, in ornate style, of the Gesta Francorum of an anonymous Norman author; Crusade historians have traditionally not been forthcoming with favourable reviews; the fact that he stays so close to Gesta Francorum, and the difficulty of his Latin, make it seem superfluous. Recent editors and translators, however, have called attention to his excellent writing and original material. More importantly, the Dei gesta provides invaluable information about the reception of the crusade in France, both for the general public and Guibert's own personal reactions. Guibert personally knew crusaders, had grown up with crusaders, and had talked with them about their memories and experiences on their return.

For the modern reader, his autobiography (De vita sua sive monodiarum suarum libri tres), or Monodiae (Solitary Songs, commonly referred to as his Memoirs), written in 1115, is typically considered the most interesting of his works. Written towards the close of his life, and based on the model of the Confessions of Saint Augustine, he traces his life from his childhood to adulthood. Throughout, he gives many picturesque glimpses of his time and the customs of his country. The text is typically divided into three "Books." The first covers his own life, from birth to adulthood; the second is a brief history of his monastery; the third is a description of the uprising of the commune of nearby Laon. The description of the Laon uprising renders an account of the events through the eyes of a contemporary. He provides invaluable information on daily life in castles and monasteries, on educational methods then in vogue, and gives insights into some of the major and minor personalities of his time. His work is coloured by his personal passions and prejudices, which add a personal touch to the work, for they provide a window into one person's perspective on the medieval world.


  • Sources
  • Books
    • Paul J. Archambault (1995). A Monk's Confession: The Memoirs of Guibert of Nogent. ISBN 0-271-01481-4
    • John Benton, ed. (1970). Self and Society in Medieval France: The Memoirs of Abbot Guibert of Nogent. A revised edition of the 1925 C.C. Swinton Bland edition, includes introduction and latest research. ISBN 0-8020-6550-3 (1984 reprint, University of Toronto Press).
    • Guibert of Nogent, Dei Gesta per Francos, ed. R.B.C. Huygens, Corpus Christianorum, Continuatio Mediaevalis 127A (Turnhout: Brepols, 1996)
    • Robert Levine (1997). The Deeds of God through the Franks : A Translation of Guibert de Nogent's `Gesta Dei per Francos' . ISBN 0-85115-693-2
    • Jay Rubenstein (2002). Guibert of Nogent: Portrait of a Medieval Mind. ISBN 0-415-93970-4

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