Leaf from a 12th Century Psalter




The vitality of Latin in the medieval world in general and especially in Britain is shown not only by the huge quantity of surviving text and its diversity, but also by the array of different writers and their reasons for writing in Latin. We know of more than 2,000 authors of British Medieval Latin by name and of these more than 500 are regularly quoted as sources in the DMLBS.

Some specialized in particular types of writing, whether history, philosophy, science, devotional verse, etc. Others used their evidently broad education to make contributions in many fields of human intellectual endeavour.

For the purposes of the DMLBS the project has always had a relatively inclusive definition of what is to be treated as British. The core of the corpus is represented by Latin texts produced in Great Britain, whether by British writers or by those who made Britain their temporary or permanent home. Indeed, some of the most important writers of Medieval Latin in Britain, including Anselm (and his predecessors at Canterbury Lanfranc and, centuries earlier, Theodore), fall into this latter category. This definition also encompasses the enormous wealth of documentary material produced in Britain over the centuries for public and private purposes by writers whose names we may not know.

The DMLBS, however, also recognizes some other evidence of Latin as deriving from or reflecting British Medieval Latin. First, the DMLBS covers material composed by British writers writing abroad, such as Alcuin and Boniface, the ‘Apostle of the Germans’. Second, the Dictionary covers sources from territories under the administration of the English crown, such as state and other documents from Normandy, the Channel Islands, Gascony, and Ireland during the relevant periods; this acknowledges the close connection to Britain of their content and their writers. Finally, the Dictionary also recognizes the broader competence of British Latin users to read Latin from around Europe, and it includes in particular the letters and other documents in Latin sent to British authors of Latin that are preserved in and among the collections of their writings.

Follow the links below to find out more about some of the most significant British writers of Latin over the course of the medieval period.

Follow the links on the right to find out more about some of the most significant British writers of Latin over the course of the medieval period.

Further reading

R. Sharpe (1997) A Handlist of the Latin Writers of Great Britain and Ireland before 1540 (Turnhout: Brepols)

Most of the writers regularly cited by the DMLBS are covered by the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.