Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Simeon of Durham

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SIMEON or SYMEON of Durham (fl. 1130), historian, was a monk of Durham, being thirty-eighth on his own list of the monks of that house (Hist. Eccl. Dunelm. ii. 5). He probably joined the monastery between the date of its establishment by Bishop Walcher [q. v.] at Jarrow in 1074 and its removal to Durham by Bishop William de St. Carilef [q. v.] in 1083; for he speaks of recollecting how Tynemouth was served by the monks from Jarrow (Hist. Regum, i. 260). It is, however, probable that he did not make his profession till 1085 or 1086 (Arnold, Præf. vol. i. p. xii). Very little is known of his life. He mentions that he could remember the services of the secular clergy in Durham Cathedral in the time of Bishop Walcher (Hist. Eccl. Dunelm. ii. 58). As a monk of Durham he was present at the translation of the remains of St. Cuthbert in 1104 (Reginald of Coldingham, De Cuthberti Virtutibus, Surtees Soc. i. 84). Afterwards he rose to be precentor of the church of Durham. That post was held by William of St. Barbara in 1138 (Monast. Angl. vi. 1173), and Simeon probably died a few years previously. The ‘Historia Regum’ is brought down to 1129, and the ‘Epistolæ de Archiepiscopis Eboraci’ was probably written about 1130 or 1132. Simeon must at this time have been about seventy years old. His obit was kept at Durham on 14 Oct. (Liber Vitæ, p. 146, Surtees Soc. xiii.).

Bale, on the strength of a chronological error in a rubric prefixed to the only manuscript of the ‘Historia Regum,’ fixed Simeon's date at 1164. Selden (ap. Scriptores Decem, pp. i–xxvi), accepting this conclusion, argued that Simeon could not be the author of the ‘Historia Ecclesiæ Dunelmensis,’ whose recollection went back to 1080. Accordingly, he claimed this latter work on behalf of Turgot [q. v.], who was prior of Durham in 1104. The error was exposed by Rudd in a dissertation prefixed to Bedford's edition of the Durham history in 1732.

Simeon was for the most part an industrious compiler rather than an original historian. His most important work is the ‘Historia Ecclesiæ Dunelmensis,’ which was written between 1104 and 1108, and is brought down to the death of William of St. Carilef in 1096. Next in importance is the ‘Historia Regum Anglorum et Dacorum.’ The first portion, extending from 732 to 957, is based on the work of a Cuthbertine annalist, who had borrowed largely from Asser, but preserves northern information of value; the second portion extends from 848 to 1129, and is based on the ‘Chronicle’ of Florence of Worcester, with some brief interpolations as far as 1119; the final part, from 1119 to 1129, is an original composition. The ‘Historia Regum’ was afterwards continued by John of Hexham [q. v.] In addition to these two works, Bale attributes to Simeon: 1. ‘De Obsessione Dunelmi et de probitate Uchtredi Comitis.’ 2. ‘Epistola ad Hugonem Decanum Eboracensem de Archiepiscopis Eboraci.’ 3. ‘Epistolæ’ addressed to Elmer, prior of Christ Church. These letters have not survived. Simeon may also possibly be the author of the latter part of the treatise ‘De Miraculis et Translationibus Cuthberti’ (Arnold, Præf. vol. i. pp. xxx–xxxii). All Simeon's writings, together with some shorter pieces in continuation of his ‘Chronicles,’ or used by him in their preparation, were printed by Twysden in his ‘Scriptores Decem.’ The ‘Historia Ecclesiæ Dunelmensis’ was edited by Thomas Bedford, London, 1732. Mr. Hodgson Hinde edited all but the ‘Historia Dunelmensis,’ together with other ‘Collectanea,’ for the Surtees Society (vol. li. 1868). The first portion of the ‘Historia Regum’ is printed in the ‘Monumenta Historica Britannica.’ Simeon's complete works, with other ‘Collectanea’ and continuations, have been edited by Mr. Thomas Arnold for the Rolls Series in 2 vols. London, 1882, 1885.

[Authorities quoted; Arnold's Prefaces in Rolls Series, and Hinde's Preface in Surtees Soc.; Wright's Biogr. Brit. Litt. ii. 101–3; Hardy's Descriptive Cat. Brit. Hist. ii. 77.]

C. L. K.