Davies, Ceri


Davies, Ceri, John Prise. Historiae Britannicae defensio: A defence of the British history, Studies and Texts 195, Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 2015. liv + 336 pp.

  • Book/Monograph
Citation details
John Prise. Historiae Britannicae defensio: A defence of the British history
Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies
Number of pages
liv + 336
Edition, with facing English translation, introduction and notes.
Abstract (cited)
Sir John Prise (1501/2–1555), of Brecon, was an influential lawyer and administrator during the reigns of King Henry VIII, King Edward VI and Queen Mary I. In the 1530s he was brought under the aegis of Thomas Cromwell, to whose family he became connected by marriage, and was appointed visitor and commissioner for the dissolution of monasteries in England and Wales. The experience made him acutely aware of the wealth of manuscripts contained in these religious houses, and alone among the commissioners he set about saving material from their libraries.

In 1540 he was appointed secretary of the Council in the Marches of Wales and made his home in Hereford, in the dissolved Benedictine Priory of St Guthlac. This remained his base for the last fifteen years of his life, a time in which he combined public duty with a deep commitment to literary and scholarly pursuits. In 1546 he was responsible for the printing of Yny lhyvyr hwnn, the earliest printed book in the Welsh language. His greatest work, however, is his Latin book, Historiae Britannicae Defensio, an early draft of which was written by 1545. In it Prise addresses the criticisms directed against Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae and the tradition of the British History based on it, especially by the Italian historian Polydore Vergil in Anglica Historia (first edition 1534). Until nearly the end of his life Prise continued modifying and expanding his text. It is notable not only for its author’s knowledge of British antiquity, founded on years of study of manuscript and other sources including – most importantly for Prise – material in Welsh, but also for the range of its learning, its lucid Latinity and the forensic quality of its argumentation.

The present work puts John Prise's Historiae Britannicae Defensio into print for the first time since the edition whose publication in 1573 was seen to by the author's son, Richard Prise. The 1573 printing forms the copy-text, critically edited in the light of the one surviving manuscript (Oxford, Balliol College, MS 260) of a version which is very close to it. The facing English translation is the first published translation of the Defensio. The work is furnished with an extensive introduction and elucidatory notes.
Subjects and topics
textual editing

London, British Library, MS Cotton Titus F iii  • Oxford, Balliol College, MS 260 

History, society and culture
John PriseSiôn ap Rhys (1501/2–1555) – scholar and administrator of Brecon; son of Rhys ap Gwilym ap Llywelyn and of Gwenllian daughter of Hywel ap Madog.
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Richard PrisePrise (Richard)
Entry reserved for but not yet available from the subject index.
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C. A.,Dennis Groenewegen