Niger, Ralph (DNB00)
|←Nigel (fl.1190)||Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 41
NIGER, RALPH (fl. 1170), historian and theologian, is said to have been a native of Bury St. Edmunds, where manuscripts of several of his works were formerly preserved. According to his own statement in the preface to the second part of his ‘Moralia on the Books of Kings,’ Ralph studied at Paris under Gerard La Pucelle, who began to teach in or about 1160. Ralph himself possibly taught rhetoric and dialectics there. He is said to have been archdeacon of Gloucester, but his name does not appear in Le Neve's ‘Fasti Ecclesiæ Anglicanæ.’ Ralph was a supporter of Thomas Becket, and two letters written to him on the archbishop's behalf by John of Salisbury in 1166 are extant (Materials for History of Thomas Becket, vi. 1–8). The continuator of his second chronicle states that Ralph, having been accused before Henry II, fled into exile, and in revenge inserted in his history a savage and unseemly attack on the king. Nothing is known of Ralph's later life, but he would seem to have survived till after the accession of Baldwin to the see of Canterbury in 1184 (Chron. pp. 166, 168). He can hardly be the Ralph Niger who was afflicted with madness as a penalty for dissuading his shipmates from visiting the shrine of St. Thomas at Canterbury (Materials for History of Thomas Becket, i. 303). Ralph Niger has been constantly confused with another Ralph (Radulphus Flaviacensis), who was a Benedictine monk at Flaix, in the diocese of Beauvais. Alberic of Trois Fontaines says that Ralph of Flaix flourished in 1157, and was the author of a commentary on Leviticus; but, though the two Ralphs were contemporaries, there is no sufficient ground for treating them as the same person.
Ralph Niger was the author of two chronicles: 1. ‘Chronicon ab orbe condito usque ad A.D. 1199.’ 2. ‘Chronicon succinctum de vitis imperatorum et tam Franciæ quam Angliæ regum.’ Both were edited by Colonel R. Anstruther for the Caxton Society in 1851. The former is contained in Cotton MS. Cleopatra, C. x.; the latter in Cotton MS. Vesp. D. x., Claud. D. vii., College of Arms, xi., and Reg. 13 A. xii. Ralph's share in the latter extends only to 1161; from this point it was continued by Ralph Coggeshall [q. v.] Neither chronicle contains much notice of English affairs, and what there is is borrowed from Geoffrey of Monmouth, William of Malmesbury, and Henry of Huntingdon. The second chronicle, however, is of interest for the savage invective against Henry II, on pp. 167–9. Ralph is also credited with three other historical works, namely, ‘Gesta Regis Johannis,’ ‘Initia Regis Henrici Tertii,’ and ‘De regibus a Gulielmo.’ But the first two are really extracts from Roger of Wendover, and the third is perhaps an extract from Ralph's own chronicle.
In the first of his chronicles Ralph gives the following list of his works: 1. ‘Septem digesta super Eptaticum.’ 2. ‘Moralia in Libros Regum.’ 3. ‘Epitome Veteris Testamenti sive commentarii in Paralipomena.’ 4. ‘Remedia in Esdram et Nehemiah.’ 5. ‘De re Militari et de tribus viis Hierosolymæ.’ 6. ‘De quattuor festis beatæ Mariæ Virginis.’ 7. ‘De interpretatione Hebræorum nominum.’ The last six, together with the second chronicle, were formerly in the cathedral library at Lincoln (cf. Catalogue ap Giraldus Cambrensis, vii. 170); only the last three and the chronicle appear to be there now; the fifth is contained in Pembroke College, Cambridge, MS. 76. Tanner also gives: 1. ‘Super Pentateuchum.’ 2. ‘Digestum in Numerum.’ 3. ‘Digestum in Leviticum.’ 4. ‘Pantheologicum,’ in which last Ralph was styled archdeacon of Gloucester. The commentary on Leviticus referred to by Tanner seems to be really the voluminous work of Ralph of Flaix, of which there are numerous manuscripts; it was printed at Cologne, 1536, and in the ‘Bibliotheca Patrum Maxima.’ Ralph of Flaix was also author of a commentary, ‘Super Parabolas Salomonis,’ in Pembroke College, Cambridge, MS. 83, which has been ascribed to Ralph Niger; and of commentaries on Genesis, Nahum, the Epistles of St. Paul, and Revelation. Some have also ascribed to Ralph of Flaix the chronicles which belong to Ralph Niger.[Tanner's Bibl. Brit.-Hib. p. 548; Hardy's Descriptive Catalogue of British History, ii. 287, 496; Wright's Biogr. Brit. Litt. Anglo-Norman, pp. 423–4; Cave's Script. Eccl. ii. 232; Oudin, ii. 441, iii. 94; Histoire Littéraire de France, xii.; information kindly supplied by Canon Venables; other authorities quoted.]