Published online by Cambridge University Press: 17 July 2018
In this essay I will discuss a group of manuscripts from the late eleventh and twelfth centuries that contain Paul the Deacon's Historia Langobardorum (HL) – either alone or, more often, together with other texts – all of which may be associated with English monasteries and cathedrals. I will highlight their origins and their textual relationships and offer a few thoughts on the presence of Paul the Deacon's History of the Lombards in Anglo-Norman England.
Paul the Deacon was born in the third or fourth decade of the eighth century in Cividale del Friuli (at that time known as Forum Iulii), the capital of a Lombard duchy, and the first place where the Lombards had settled at the time of their invasion of Italy in AD 568. Paul was a Lombard, but spent most of his life – apart from his early youth – far away from Cividale, at the Lombard courts of Pavia and Benevento, and in France at Charlemagne's court, before returning to Southern Italy, and to Montecassino, where he ended his life in the very last years of the century. According to tradition, Paul the Deacon wrote the History of the Lombards (subsequently HL) at the end of his life, aiming to narrate in six books the history of his people from their mythical origins to King Liutprand's death in 744. Whether the HL ends thirty years before Charlemagne's conquest of Northern Italy because its author died before completing it, or because he deliberately avoided relating the defeat of the Lombards, remains under discussion. Moreover, this end point also raises the wider question of the political meaning of Paul the Deacon's most famous work: for whom did he write it? Did he write it for the Lombards themselves, in a vengeful mood against the Franks? Or, as recent scholars have tended to think, did he write it for the Franks in order to secure for the Lombards an ideological integration inside the Carolingian establishment? These questions have been much discussed in recent decades. As a result the early tradition of the HL, that is the dissemination of ninth-century manuscripts, has been much more studied than the work's later circulation.