Langtoft, Peter of (DNB00)

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LANGTOFT, PETER of (d. 1307?), rhyming chronicler, took his name from the village of Langtoft in the East Riding of Yorkshire, where he may have been born. We learn from Robert Mannyng [q. v.], the translator of his 'Chronicle' (Robert of Brunne, p. 579, ed. Furnivall), that he was a canon of the Augustinian priory of Bridlington, a town only a few miles from Langtoft. He wrote a history of England up to the death of Edward I in French verse, and Mannyng tells us that he invoked St. Bæda to aid him in his historical composition (ib. p. 580). It has been inferred by Hearne, with some probability, that he died about 1307, the time when his history concludes. Additional information hazarded by Leland, Pits, and Hearne is palpable guesswork.

Langtoft's 'Chronicle' is written in rough French verse. The language is very loose and ungrammatical and is plainly the work of a foreigner little conversant with standard French. Its extensive circulation shows that there must have been classes in the north of England early in the fourteenth century who still spoke or understood Langtoft's barbarous Yorkshire French. The early part of Langtoft's 'Chronicle' is taken from Geoffrey of Monmouth, and the middle part is a compilation from various sources, and of no historical value. For the reign of Edward I Langtoft is a contemporary, and in some ways a valuable authority. He is specially interested in northern affairs and Edward I's wars against Scotland. He dwells with great energy on the devastations of the Scots, and seeks to give a sort of popular justification of Edward's Scottish policy. Several curious fragments of English songs are imbedded in his narrative.

Langtoft wrote his history of Edward I, at the request of a patron called 'Scaffeld,' in one manuscript, though in another he is simply styled 'unsamis.' It circulated chiefly in the north, one of the best manuscripts (now preserved in the College of Arms) being written by a certain John, at the request of his master, Sir John, vicar of Adlingfleet in the West Riding of Yorkshire. It was held in great esteem in the north, and the latter part of it was translated into English by Robert Mannyng of Bourn in Lincolnshire, more commonly called Robert of Brunne. Mannyng regarded Langtoft as 'quaynte in his speech and wys,' speaks of his 'mykel wyt,' and despairs of imitating his 'fair speche' (ib. p. 580; cf. p. 6, 'feyrere langage non ne redis'). But he blames him for 'overhoping' too much of Geoffrey of Monmouth's Latin narrative, and prefers to translate Wace for the mythical part (ib. p. 5). He follows Langtoft, however, from the Saxon invasion onwards.

Langtoft's 'Chronicle' was published for the first time by Thomas Thorpe, in two volumes of the Rolls Series, in 1866 and 1868. The historical part of Mannyng's translation was published by Hearne in 1725, with the title, 'Peter of Langtoft's Chronicle, as illustrated and improved by Robert of Brunne, from the Death of Cadwaladr to the end of King Edward the First's reign.' In the preface is a long but confused and inaccurate account of Langtoft. Pits (De Illustr. Angliæ Script. p. 890), who calls him Langatosta, actually makes Langtoft the author of the English version. Leland (Comm. de Script. Brit. p. 218) does not know Langtoft as an historian. Dr. Furnivall published in 1887 the mythical part of Brunne's English version in the Rolls Series. Though this is mostly taken from Wace, Langtoft is occasionally used, and the preface and conclusion contain our only biographical information about him.

Leland makes Langtoft the author of a French metrical version of Herbert of Bosham's 'Life of St. Thomas of Canterbury,' in which he is followed by Pits. Mr. Wright shows that this translation is earlier in date and purer in language than Langtoft's work, besides being assigned in the manuscript to one 'Frere Benet.' But two French poems, one a commonplace allegory, the other a lamentation of the Virgin over her Child, are found in one manuscript (Cotton MS. Julius, A. v.) of Langtoft's 'Chronicle' in the same handwriting as the latter part of the history, and are expressly attributed by the copyist to Peter's authorship. Mr. Wright considers internal evidence makes this probable in the case of the first poem, but unlikely in the second case.

[Wright's preface to vol. i. of the Rolls Series edition collects all that is known of Langtoft, and corrects the guesses and misstatements of Leland, Pits, and Hearne; some manuscripts that have escaped Mr. Wright's researches are noticed by M. Paul Meyer in Revue Critique, 1867, ii. 198; Bulletin de la Société des Anciens Textes Français, 1878, pp. 105, 140; and Romania, xv. 313.]

T. F. T.