Born c.1335 Died c.1401
Richard of Cirencester was a member of the Benedictine abbey at Westminster, and his name ('Circestre') first appears on the chamberlain's list of the monks of that foundation drawn up in the year 1355. In the year 1391 he obtained a licence from the abbot to go to Rome, and in this the abbot gives his testimony to Richard's perfect and sincere observance of religion for upwards of thirty years. In 1400 Richard was in the infirmary of the abbey, where he died in the following year.
His only known extant work is Speculum Historiale de Gestis Regum Angliae, 447-1066. The MS. of this is in the university library at Cambridge, and has been edited for the Rolls Series (No. 30) by Professor J. E. B. Mayor (2 vols., London, 1863-69). It is in four books, and at the conclusion of the fourth book Richard expresses his intention of continuing his narrative from the accession of William I, and incorporating a sketch of the Conqueror's career from his birth. This design he does not, however, appear to have carried into effect.
The value of the Speculum as a contribution to our historical knowledge is but slight, for it is mainly a compilation from other writers; while even in transscribing these the compiler is guilty of great carelessness. He gives, however, numerous charters relating to Westminster Abbey, and also a very complete account of the saints whose tombs were in the abbey church, and especially of Edward the Confessor. The work was, however, largely used by historians and antiquaries, until, with the rise of a more critical spirit, its value became more accurately estimated. Besides the Speculum Richard also wrote, according to the statement of William of Woodford in his Answer to Wycliffe (Edward Brown, Fasciculus Rerum expetendarum, p. 193), a treatise De Ofilciis; and there was formerly in the cathedral library at Peterborough another tractate from his pen, entitled Super Symbolum. Of neither of these works, however, does any known copy now exist.
The Speculum affords the most conclusive proof of the spuriousness of another work attributed to Richard and long accepted by the learned world as his. This was the De Situ Britanniae, an elaborate forgery relating to the antiquities of Roman Britain, which first appeared at Copenhagen in the year 1747. It was printed with the works of Gildas and Nennius, under the editorship of Charles Julius Bertram, professor of English in the academy of Copenhagen in the middle of the 18th century, with the following special title: Richardi Corinensis monachi Westmonasteriensis de situ Britanniae libri duo. E. Codici MS. descripsit, Notisque et Indice adornavit Carolus Bertram.
This forgery was accepted as genuine by a well-known antiquary of the 18th century, Dr William Stukeley, and under the sanction of his authority continued for a long time to be regarded in the same light by numerous scholars and antiquaries, including Gibbon and Lingard. On the other hand, critics of a later date gave expression, on various grounds, to a contrary conclusion. All doubt on the subject may, however, be held to have been effectually set at rest by the masterly exposure of the whole fraud drawn up by Professor Mayor in the preface to the edition above referred to of the Speculum. He has there not only demonstrated, from the external and internal evidence alike, the spuriousness of the whole treatise, but in a collation (extending to nearly a hundred pages) of numerous passages with corresponding passages in classical medieval authorities, has also traced out the various sources whence Bertram derived the terminology and the facts which he reproduced in the De Situ. (J. B. M.)
Being the entry for RICHARD OF CIRENCESTER in the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica, the text of which lies within the public domain.