LAYAMON (fl. 1200), author of 'Brut,' is only known through statements of his own. His great work opens by saying, ‘There was a priest in the land, Layamon hight; he was Leoenath's son (May the Lord love him!) He dwelt at Ernley (sic), at a noble church upon the Severn's bank; it seemed to him good to be there. Fast by Radestone (sic) there he read books’ [read the service, or simply studied]. And he goes on to say that here the idea occurred to him of writing a history of England. The mention of 'Radestone' and of the Severn clearly identifies ‘Ernley' with Areley Regis in North Worcestershire, close by which is a high cliff called Redstone. Tradition, according to Murray's 'Guide to Worcestershire’ (p. 232, cd. 1872), has specially associated Layamon with this cliff which has had extensive excavations made in its solid rock, and 'once enjoyed high repute as a hermitage.' Layamon's own statement negatives such a tradition. As Sir Frederick Madden rightly insists, he distinctly connects himself with Areley Church, and mentions Redstone by way of direction and for this purpose it might well serve if, as is very possible, a well-known route from London to North Wales passed by it in the middle ages, as in later times Redstone Ferry, says Murray, ‘was once the high road from North Wales to London.' Layamon also styles himself a ‘priest.’ Now, though a priest might have turned hermit, yet in the middle ages the hermits formed a distinct 'religious' class. The second and later version of the 'Brut' writes Lawemon for Layamon, and Leuca for Leonenað; and for ‘at æðelen are chirechen,' it reads 'wid þan gode cniþte,’ and so makes the sense run: ‘He dwelt at Ernley with the good kniqht.' The scribe has perhaps translated ‘æðelen are chirechen,' by 'good’ (so elsewhere, e.g. l. 57), and wildly misread 'chirechen,' or boldly converted it into ‘cniþte.’
Sir Frederick Madden, in the preface to his edition, remarks that both the names Layamon and Leouenath, or variants of them, occur in documents of the beginning of the thirteenth century. He refers to an occurrence of Legemann in Cambridgeshire, and Levenoth or Levenethe in Essex. It has apparently not been hitherto observed that the latter name is found close by Worcestershire, viz. in Herefordshire, and in almost the very same form as in the 'Brut,' at the close of the tenth century. A charter of Ealdulf, his bishop of Worcester, dated 996, assigns certain lands to one Leofenað, who may have been an ancestor, and at any rate lived in the same district (Kemble, Codex Diplomaticus, dcxcv, iii. 295–6).
The date of Layamon is approximately settled by the fact that his poem is based on Wace's ‘Roman da Brut.' Describing the works he collected for information on English history he says that the third book he took and laid before him was made by 'a French clerk, hight Wace, who well could write; and he gave it to the noble Eleanor, that was the high King Henry’s Queen.' Now, Wace himself tells us he composed this work in ll55. Again, Madden has pointed out what seemsan allusion to the destruction of Leicester by the forces of Henry II, under the justiciary, Richard de Lacy, in 1173 (see ll. 2916–21, i. 123–4 of Madden's edit.) Henry II and Queen Eleanor, apparently mentioned as dead in the above passage, died in 1189 and in 1206 respectively. In the account given of the establishment of the Rome-feoh or Peter's pence, a doubt is expressed by the writer as to the continuance of the payment (see iii. 288). Now, in 1206 it 'appears that King John and his nobles resisted the pope's mandate for its collection' (see Fœdera, vol. i. pt. i. p. 94; Wilkins, Concilia, i. 514). There seem to be no allusions to this of a later date, nor is such a date suggested by the grammar and language. We may therefore conclude that Layamon belongs in origin and growth to the latter part of the twelfth cent a period remarkable for its intellectuilg vigour both in Wales and in England, noticeably in the western midlands of England, that is, on the Wehh marches-and that he accomplished his great task in the beginning of the thirteenth century.
Upon resolving rewrite the history of the first men who came to England after the flood, he travelled far and wide over the country, and procured the noble books which he took for his model [i.e. his authority]. He took the English book that Saint Beda made; a second in Latin he took, which Saint Albin made, and the fair Auston who brought Christianity [fulfiht, i.e. baptism] in hither.' After mentioning Wase, 'Layamon,' he continues, 'laid these books before him, and turned over the leaves; lovingly he looked on them. (May the Lord be good to him!) Pen tools he in his fingers, and wrote on bookskin, and put together the true words; and combined the three books.' He ends by begging his readers topray for his own soul and the souls of his father and mother.
Layamon's learning was far from complete; for he seems to think that the Anglo-Saxon version of Bæda's ‘Historia Ecclesiastica' made by King Alfred was made by Bæda himself; and that Bæda'a Latin work was made by Albin, whom Bæda mentions only as one of his authorities. How be comes to associate Augustine with Albin as joint author is a mystery. Moreover, he makes scarcely any use of the work. Perhaps was more at home with Wace's French than with Bæda’s Latin; but here, too, a careful criticism has discovered shortcomings (see Madden, vol. i. p. xiv n.) Layamon, however, was an enthusiastic reader and collector. He gathered togother from other sources, written and unwritten stories that might otherwise have perished. He makes large additions to what he found in the ‘Romande Brut' (see ib. vol. i. pp. xiv-xvi). No doubt his position on the Welsh marches brought to his ears man old traditions. As late as the time of Henry VIII, it has been remarked. Herefordshire was regarded as a semi-Welsh county; and Worcestershire would share the current folk-lore. In the dialect of his district, and with such effectiveness as the state of the of the long-over-shadowed English language permitted, with real spirit and power, and often with vivid imagination, Layamon retold the tales that had so attracted, and delighted him.
His work marks the revival of the English mind and spirit. Stories told up to Layamon's time only in Latin and French now appear in the vernacular speech and the vernacular form. And among them are some of the most famous stories of English literature-stories of Locrine, of King Lear, of King Arthur. Noticeably also it marks the perfect fusion of the Celtic and the Teutonic elements of our race. Welshmen like Geoffrey of Monmouth and Walter Map might well be expected to make much of the of heroes of Britain and the British, of the island and in inhabitants before the Angles came over the seas; but it was a sign of the times that the descendants of those Angles should accept and honour the heroes of the people when their forefathers had invaded and subdued.
Layamon’s 'Brut' is extant in two manuscipts (both now in the British Museum), viz. Cott. Calig. A. ix. and Cott. Otho C. iii. The latter, which had a narrow escapa from complete destruction by the disastrous fire at Ashburnham House, 1781, is on good grounds believed to be of somewhat later date than the former, and to have been written at some place further north. Both were printed and admirably edited by so Frederick Madden in 1847.
[Sea Layamon's Brut, or Chronicle of Britain; a poetical semi-Saxon paraphrase of the Brut of Wace, now first published from the Cottonian MSS. of the British Museum, accompanied by a literal Translation, Notes, and a Grammatical Glossary by Sir Frederic Maddon, K.H., published by Soc. of Antiq. London, 1847. 3 vols. royal 8vo; Marsh's Origin and Hist. of the English Language, and the early Literature it embodies; Mätzner's Altenglische Sprachproben; Ten Brink's Early English Lit.; Anglia, vols. i. ii. iii.; Wace's Roman de Brut, ed. Le Roux de Lincy; Wright's Biog. Lit.]