Ordericus Vitalis, and his near contemporary William of Malmesbury, whose name will inevitably come up from time to time in this article, had a more optimistic view of history than their great forebears, Augustine and Orosius, (1) and saw some value in trying to tease out the thread of where history was properly going in the short term, this side of the Apocalypse.
Ordericus Vitalis was a voluminous historian in just such changing times and we seek here to examine what he thought history was, why it should be written, for whom, and why he compiled it the way he did.
The study of Ordericus Vitalis, monk in the Norman monastery of St Evroult, (10) English by birth, with a Norman father and an English mother, and writing his great history between c.
Like Prosper Merimee (who said 'In history I care only for anecdotes' (67)) or Eugene Onegin, (68) both William of Malmesbury and Ordericus Vitalis were keen on anecdotes.
Both William of Malmesbury and Ordericus Vitalis were convinced that history did demonstrate God's providential control of world events, while assigning fate and fortune a considerable role.
Jean Blacker (The Faces of Time: Portrayal of the Past in Old French and Latin Historical Narrative of the Anglo-Norman Regnum (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1994) deals briefly with William of Malmesbury, Ordericus Vitalis, and Geoffrey of Monmouth.
Summing up the twenty-odd years of William's reign, an acute observer, Ordericus Vitalis
, described the Conqueror as a 'barbarous murderer' who had 'persecuted the native inhabitants beyond all reason' and caused 'innumerable multitudes to perish by famine or the sword.