William of Malmesbury, it is believed, was born around 1090 of a Norman father and Saxon mother. It is thought his birthplace was near Sherbourne. He became an oblate (novice) here at Malmesbury at the age of ten and advanced to become the librarian of Malmesbury Abbey. Under him the library became famous; in the scriptorium many books were copied. As he himself said “As librarian of the monastery I take second place to none of my predecessors”.
As well as copying books (examples of his penmanship still survive) William was a prodigious author. The most famous of his books are ‘Gesta Pontificum Anglorum’ (Deeds of the English Bishops), ‘Gesta Regum’ (Deeds of the Kings) and ‘Historia Novella’ (Recent history) which dealt with the last years of Henry I’s reign and the civil war that followed between Stephen and Matilda.
Much of our information of the Anglo-Saxon kings and the medieval period comes from William. As he was writing many years after the events he describes it is necessary to be cautious but there is no reason to think he was anything but an accurate recorder of history.
William was still writing and revising his works up until his death c.1143; he was then in his early fifties.
Sadly, Malmesbury library fell into decline; few books survive. It was reported that some of the vellum pages were used as stoppers for beer barrels.